BWW Interview: BOOK OF MORMON Cast Member Corey Jones
I believe that truly the most talented people in the arts are also some of the most humble. One of my greatest joys as an arts critic is having a personal conversation with an individual artist or a member of a production team and realizing I'd like to just hang out with them on a basic human level-grab a whiskey and shoot the breeze, maybe go bowling!
On Saturday morning I had one of these very relaxed encounters in an interview with Corey Jones. Mr. Jones is currently eclipsing his year anniversary with the U.S. Tour of "Book of Mormon" as the role of The General. Corey was kind enough to take my call at the "early actor's hour" (his words) of 11:30am to talk about coming back to Texas, the success of this show, and special skills actors should consider listing on their resumés...
BroadwayWorld: First off, welcome back to Dallas/Ft.Worth! I know you have worked here at Dallas Theater Center before: do you have any local haunts, family or friends that you visit when you're in the area?
Corey Jones: I don't have any family or friends in town. I did my graduate work at University of Texas so I would try to get up to Dallas every now and then to go clubbing and check out shows.
My time with Dallas Theater Center was great. First of all, the show that we worked on there was a fantastic piece called The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. It's just a great theater to work out of, the space downtown.
Of course I like Deep Ellum. I know on the east side of I-35 there were some restaurants where we'd hang out. I'm sure it will all come back to me once I'm there.
BWW: How long have you been touring with "Book of Mormon" and how did you first break into this tour?
Jones: I have been with this particular company for years but I have been with this tour for just a little bit over a year; joined January 2nd, literally the day after New Year's, last year.
In total I've been with the show about three an a half years now. I auditioned back in 2013 and it went pretty quickly for me. I auditioned for a casting director, he put me on tape and sent it to New York. In a week I got a request to go to New York, audition for the creative team. About two weeks after that I booked the gig and had two weeks to pack up and get ready to join the original tour. The first time, two and a half years, then that tour closed down and was sent to Australia. I did regional theatre for awhile and rejoined last year.
BWW: I have some ex-Mormon friends coming out to the show and they are curious--how much knowledge did you have about the Book of Mormon itself, or Mormon missionaries, before becoming involved in the production?
Jones: I didn't have a lot of knowledge. I had actually done some contracts with Utah Shakespeare so I had some contact with Mormons, and certainly knew of them, but I didn't know the particulars of the faith, the history, what some of the beliefs were. All of that came about from listening to the show at this point over 1,200 times. I learned a lot from the show.
Funny enough our best audiences, our favorite audiences to perform for, are ex-Mormons or people closely related to Mormons because they get ALL the jokes, all the references. The creators, Matt and Trey who created South Park, did such an excellent job of doing their research and creating this show. Everything you see, even some of the scenes that are particularly hilarious, is rooted in truth. I find that Mormons, ex-Mormons, all walks actually get a kick out of the show. Some, as with any subject that we're close to, might feel that they get their toes stepped on a bit, but for the most part the overwhelming reactions is that they find it incredibly funny, entertaining, true to life, and very accessible. I'm looking forward to hearing what your friends think of it. [chuckles]
BWW: This show gives a unique voice to the naive, young missionaries being sent as teens to war-torn countries to convert people. Why are audiences so enamored with Trey Parker and Matt Stone's message?
Jones: I think that they are, first of all, masters of satire. They know how to tell a story! When you watch any South Park episode, you are laughing at ridiculous stuff for the first 85-90% of the episode and then the last 10% of the episode they tie it all together in some sort of redemptive moment.
"Book of Mormon" is the same way. You go on this fantastic ride where you meet these insane characters in these ridiculous situations, but all based in some sort of truth. You're highlighting stuff that's very accessible and relatable: religion, you're watching people try to accomplish this goal. The audience can recognize that right away.
You're exposing something that we all have an attachment to. We might not all be Mormons but we all had some sort of access to religion and faith, indoctrination, so we can relate just by watching these two guys trying to spread their faith just as many of us were taught to do in our own personal walk of faith in our lives. The challenges of that, the questions we have-why do we believe what we believe when some of these stories don't make sense in our books of faith? "Book of Mormon" talks about that, exposes that--what is it in us as human beings that allows us to believe about a man who put two of every animal in a boat for 40 days of rain? Do we question that? No, we just believe it! But somebody else hearing that story might think it sounds ridiculous.
We do the same questioning when we examine the Book of Mormon in the show. So I think the audience finds an entry point into the satire to relate and find a connection to their own lives. That's why it resonates, that's why this show is still going strong some 8 years after it opened on Broadway. The themes are universal, it is hard to deny brilliantly written satire, and I just think the music is great! The score is so fun to listen to, toe-tapping and head nodding, so that combination of the music from Bobby with the writing of Trey and Matt is why this show is so successful.
BWW: Speaking of unique voices-you do a lot of voiceover work in addition to the singing and acting. How do you keep your voice, which is so iconic to The General's role, healthy during tours?
Jones: That's a great question for two reasons-First of all, traveling as much as we do, we're going in and out of different climates all the time. This winter has really been a challenge, we hit winter this early season because we went to Canada in September and it snowed the second day we were there. So we've been dealing with winter since... five months ago. So that is a challenge, how do we stay healthy in different climates and different regions of the country where allergens are different? We all travel with a mini-pharmacy: we've got our cocktail of supplements and drugs to keep it healthy on the road.
And then secondly, one of the challenges for me in this role as the General, is I play the person who comes in and lays down the law; there's sort of a growl and gruffness to him. By the eighth show of the week, that growling has shredded my chords and I still have to sing! I do have to find ways during the course of the week to make sure I'm supporting my voice with the breath, not straining, screaming, etc. And I do my whole ritual of gargle and if I need to steam to make sure I'm keeping everything lubricated and open as possible. But it can be a lot! The vocal demands of establishing my power by the end of the week has some wear and tear.
BWW: Maybe a shot of whiskey?
Jones: Hey, I carry that in my kit too! No joke!
BWW: Lastly, in preparation for our meeting today I perused your resumé and noted that bowling is listed as one of your special skills. Exactly how good does one have to be at bowling to list it under your top talents??
Jones: [HEARTY LAUGH] Let me tell you, not very good. I haven't even sniffed at a 300, I've maybe broken in to the 200s once or twice in my life.
You know, it's funny, now a lot of this casting is done online. The agencies have these charts for you to check off everything that you can do. And then you can check off what you can do at a beginner status, intermediate, or expert. Horseback riding, juggling, parasailing... and you're looking at this and thinking "I need to check off some of this stuff so I look like I have some skills!"
So I put bowling because yeah, I can bowl; I can throw a ball down the lane! I checked that thing off but girl... you get me on the lane, you'll be like "Special skills?!" [LAUGHS] It's not that special, I'm sad to say, but now that you called me out I'm going to have to get to the bowling alley and work on my game.
There is no doubt in my mind that Corey and the cast of "Book of Mormon" are going to bowl us over with laughter in DFW over the next two weeks! The tour stops first at the Bass Performance Hall Jan 22 - Jan 27 tickets at www.basshall.com then the troupe travels over to the Music Hall at Fair Park Jan 29 - Feb 3 tickets at www.dallassummermusicals.org.