WHERE ARE THEY NOW? BOOK OF MORMON's Candace Quarrels
Candace Quarrels' story is one of those hard-to-believe show business tales that is likely to resonate with so many people, for so long, that it might become legendary in time. In fact, it may be the modern day equivalent to the age-old tale of a young, sweater-clad Lana Turner being discovered at a lunch counter in Schwab's drugstore in L.A. (back in the day when aspiring starlets had lunch at drug store soda fountains) and being transformed into a movie star - who, interestingly enough (especially for this story), became a legend.
For Candace Quarrels, who at the time [fall, 2014] was a musical theater student at Nashville's Belmont University (a school that's known all over the country for transforming hard-working and talented young people into the next generation of musical theater performers), her big break came in the form of a Facebook event invitation to an open call audition for the national touring company of Book of Mormon, the big and brash Tony Award-winningmusical which is as legendary as Broadway musicals come these days.
Here's what I wrote about Book of Mormon, from last November 2014, when it played the Tennessee Performing Arts Center - and Candace was still a Belmont student: "Two weeks after conservative Tennessee voters turned the Volunteer State a deeper shade of red and some three years after I was told The Book of Mormon likely would never play the Tennessee Performing Arts Center because its plot is too outlandish, its book too profane, its tenor too irreverent, the second national touring company of the nine-time Tony Award-winning musical came to Nashville and gave audiences a much-needed jolt of electricity that elicited one of the longest, uninterrupted standing ovations I've ever witnessed in TPAC's Jackson Hall. And while Nashville audiences, lord knows, love to leap to their feet at the end of their touring shows (regardless of whether the productions deserve them or not), you could feel it in the room Tuesday night that this particular audience had fallen completely and positively in love with Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone's exquisitely crafted musical about some well-meaning American religious types and the Ugandans they are trying to convert."
Now playing the role of Nabalungi in Book of Mormon, Candace has, in less than a year, gone from college student to musical theater star. Her story is fascinating, to be certain, and Candace remains charming, funny and so very sweet - yet somehow, she's still down-to-earth and grateful for the life she leads. Here's your chance to get to know her in this week's edition of Where Are They Now?
So where the heck are you now and what are you doing? Well I'm currently on-the-road in Baltimore for a two-week stint here on the national tour of Book of Mormon. We've been spoiled this past year with long sit-downs in some of the coolest cities in the US (three months in Chicago, nine weeks in D.C., six weeks in Boston, and an upcoming five weeks in Philly). It's been pretty crazy.
How did Book of Mormon happen for you? I actually got a flyer via Facebook from one of my best friends about the show having an open call in Nashville. I had zero expectations, and was going in purely for the auditioning experience! I auditioned in the middle of a school day, and after two weeks (and a few more auditions) I found out I had the job. It was both a dream come true and the biggest surprise. I got the call that I would be joining the national tour my last day of finals! I literally had just walked into the house after my vocal jury and was sitting at my kitchen table with some friends. The phone rang and the rest is history. I went from college student, to a principle on the national tour of one of my favorite shows. Blessed is an understatement.
What's been the most fulfilling part of your BOM experience? Being able to share and perform such a fun, beautiful, and charming show every night has truly been a dream. Underneath all the humor and crassness of the story, there is so much truth and meaning. With Price's determination and pride, Cunningham's loyalty and creativity, and Nabalungi's innocence and optimism, there's a little bit of these characters in all of us. It doesn't hurt that I'm seeing all of America and getting paid to do it.
Do you have any particularly interesting "the show must go on" memories? Oh, do I! Being in a show like this, we often find ourselves in some pretty hilarious situations. My Elder Cunningham has made it his personal mission to make me laugh as much as possible on stage. There has been many a night that Cody's antics have made me lose it both onstage and off.
I've also had my share of complete line flubs. One night I completely blanked on about a whole page of the African Pageant in Act Two. I don't think I've ever been more terrified.
What's your best memory of being on tour in such a wonderful show thus far? I've been extremely blessed on this journey to have had the privilege of forming incredible friendships on the road with many people in my cast. I can't think of one city that I haven't enjoyed, if not for the experience, then for the company. I'm surrounded by some of the most talented, intelligent, and overall brilliant people I've ever met.
I make a conscious decision in every city to eat at least one amazing and unique meal, and to do one special thing, so as you can imagine I have too many memories to choose one! From seeing Niagara Falls for the first time, touring the White House in D.C., walking the Freedom Trail in Boston, standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, to hiking some of the most beautiful trails, swimming with dolphins, and giving my very first television interview - I'm full to the brim with memories.
Are things happening as you thought they would before heading out into the wide, wide world of professional theater? Yes - and no. I expected to feel homesick, and to be pushed to my artistic limits. But never in a million years did I expect this show to impact me and the people around me so much. I've become a part of a family - a community - that's so special and welcoming and small. Everyone knows everyone. It's astounding. And for the most part, everyone is rooting for you to do well. I have been pushed to my limits, but I've also been supported and lifted up in ways that I never imagined.
Professional theater is far from all fun and games, but I love it all the more for the lessons I've learned from it. Both good and bad.
What brought you to Nashville in the first place? College! I studied at Belmont University for musical theatre before I landed this gig. [Because] I was born in Memphis and raised in West Memphis, Arkansas, it felt nice to stay in the south. I am extremely close with my parents, they are my very best friends, and staying within a reasonable distance from them, was important to me. After auditioning and visiting what seemed like a million programs, Belmont and Nashville felt like slipping into my favorite pair of jeans. The people, the music, the professors...I couldn't have asked for more. I created lifelong friendships, and studied under some of the most brilliant professors I've ever met.
How did your time in Nashville prepare you for where you are now in your career arc? From day one of starting college I remember being told "If you believe you can be anything else in the world but a performer - a doctor, a kindergarten teacher, a chef - do it! This career and this program are for people who love musical theatre, and who can't imagine doing anything else." I was so moved by that. And it's rings so true. That statement is something I think about every single day. We are good at what we do because we love it so much. I think Belmont breeds performers who love what they do, and most importantly love each other and that is so special and rare. We aren't encouraged to have jealousy or any kind of malice towards other performers, but to lift them up and applaud each other for our individual accomplishments. I think that is what sets us apart.
What's your most vivid memory of your time at Belmont? What I really hold on to (besides my training, of course) is the complex friendships I formed during my time at Belmont. Before every show, I FaceTime at least one of my friends. Staying in touch with them is something that is very important to me. It keeps me grounded and reminds me of who I am at the core.
Who were some of the people in Nashville and at Belmont who had a lasting impact on your and/or your career? Well, first and foremost, my parents are my greatest supporters and my ultimate teachers. Everything I am is owed to them. And my blessed God-family Jo Lynn Burks, Nancy Allen, David Shamburger and Emily Speck are four of the kindest and most brilliant educators I have ever encountered. Their guidance, and support has been invaluable on this journey. Sandra Franks, Doug Conwill, and Brandy Allison have been my rocks throughout this process and were the first people outside of my parents to believe in me and my talent. And my friends - oh, my friends - Lissa, Graham, Neal, Julian, Kenzie, Marnie, Jake, Chris and so, so many more...your love, your support, and your kindredness means the world to me. You have no idea.
...and I think I just wrote my first Tony Award acceptance speech!
What advice would you give to someone taking their first steps to becoming a part of the theater scene here - or anywhere, really - who maybe dreams of following in your footsteps? Work hard. Pray. Make connections, and be kind. You never know who is watching and listening. Talent only gets you halfway there. Hustling is what gets people jobs.
What's next for you? "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." - Eleanor Roosevelt...I just want to keep dreaming.
How good is the show? Here's more from my 2014 review of Book of Mormon: "Quite simply, The Book of Mormon is musical theatre perfection, as devilishly wry and as nose-tweakingly in-your-face as you could possibly hope for, but it is somehow as charming and as delightful as the sweetest tunefests that inform your theatrical dreams. Clearly, this 21st century show rivals the very best that Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerry Herman and Meredith Willson gave the theater in the 20th-and it does so in ways both surprising and expected. If you are having an inner debate about seeing the show (good luck with that...the run at TPAC is essentially sold out), consider the impact on your psyche of missing one of musical theater's seminal productions (yep, I just compared it to Show Boat AND Oklahoma!). The show's creative impact will be felt for years to come.
"Controversial it may be, but there is no denying that The Book of Mormon is enormously entertaining; its musical numbers are thoroughly engaging and brimming with over-the-top showbizzy glitz and glamour, and its characters are warm, funny and caring. Parker and Stone's obvious affection for musical theater can be felt throughout the two-plus hours of running time-while BOM pushes the envelope (hell, it rips the seams of a heavy-duty manila envelope), the show's structure hews fairly closely to the very best of Broadway musical comedies. To be certain, it's not for the faint of heart and if you're upset by a lot of profanity (which are just very descriptive words to my way of thinking), then this isn't the show for you. But if you are able to accept that words only become dirty if you allow them to, then chances are you can deal with the show's libretto."