BWW Review: Timeless Themes, Hilarious Package: Corey Jones on THE BOOK OF MORMON at Clowes Memorial Hall
The first impression created by The Book of Mormon does not necessarily scream "timeless themes," but Corey Jones, who plays the General in the second national tour, begs to differ. The musical is the brainchild of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, a duo expected to deliver hilarity, but Jones gives an insight into why this musical is relevant for more than a few laughs.
Jones first came to know and love The Book of Mormon by sitting in the audience. When asked why he would take a role in such an irreverent comedy, his quick response was, "I am an artist, and I won't say no to opportunity." He got his chance when he joined the first national tour of The Book of Mormon, right at a time when it was the "hottest thing on the block." Naturally, Jones took the opportunity and is happy to join the second national tour as well.
Reading through Jones' bio shows a predisposition for performing Shakespeare. I was naturally curious as to how these experiences could contribute to the formation of his character in the musical, the General, who is the far-from-funny villain. He says that his experience with previous roles lent itself to developing "presence and facility with language." He notes that playing such a domineering figure as the General demands an "antagonistic presence," one which he was aptly prepared for with such a broad performance past.
I asked Jones what he most enjoyed about performing as such an intense character, and his initial point was amusing: the clothes. "First of all, he gets to wear this incredible outfit, this African warlord, a cross between Crocodile Dundee and the sergeant from Full Metal Jacket." But he was also quick to point out that his character is grounded in truth, an actual historical figure researched by the creators. He said he most enjoyed diving into his character's psyche and found it "fun to justify what he believes in, give it credence" so that he believes in what his character says and does. He said it was important for him to give the General a "3D presence" and to avoid him becoming a mere "caricature" because he feels the musical ultimately centers on faith and beliefs. Although the General is unbelievable to the audience, internally the General is acting on what he believes, even if that means through the use of force.
Naturally the play portrays many aspects of the Mormon faith, so I questioned Jones as to his experience with those of the Mormon faith and their responses to the musical. He previously worked for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and his encounters with Mormons affirmed something the musical highlights: "We also talk about how kind and pleasant Mormons are, and you get that in every part you go, everyone is so nice and kind." In spite of that kindness, however, Jones shared that he and other cast members were nervous when the first national tour went to Salt Lake City for the first time. But the reality was far from nerve-wracking; instead, he described it as "like a rock concert," remembering how the audience was already applauding enthusiastically after hearing the opening announcements, pre-performance. He says this speaks to the musical being "rooted in truth." He feels that "They laugh because, oh my God, I recognized my friend, I recognized myself" in the characters portrayed.
While the musical clearly resonates with the Mormon community, I wanted to know what makes this musical more than comedy and relevant for modern audiences. Jones' easy response was "It's dealing with things that are ageless and not confined to a period of time or generation." He says the fact that it explores themes like religion, sex, and faith is something all audience members can respond to. He points out that the creators, Matt and Trey, are excellent satirists, but what makes their creation more impressive is the fact that it first makes you laugh and then makes you ask some penetrating questions: "Why do I believe what I believe?" In the end, Jones describes it as a "love letter to faith." In particular, he points to the last bit of the show as the audience and cast alike seek some resolution after such an experience. His perspective is that it "gives us a chance to redeem ourselves." He recognizes the "sobering moment" as a chance for us all to re-evaluate our own faith and beliefs and to figure out not just how to spread that faith but how to put it into action in a way that affects change.