BWW Interview: Andy Huntington Jones of THE BOOK OF MORMON at Saenger Theatre
Like THE BOOK OF MORMON, Andy Huntington Jones is making a triumphant return to New Orleans. The New York-based actor was last seen at The Saenger Theatre as Prince Topher in the critically acclaimed production of CINDERELLA. This week, he plays the repressed Elder McKinley, a Mormon-American stationed in Uganda who serves as the mentor to his missionary companions in the widely phenomenal production of BOOK OF MORMON. Huntington Jones sat down with BroadwayWorld.com to talk about the show, being on tour and how the humor of the show is not what you'd think at first glance.
Tara Bennett: Tell us about your background in theatre, and how you started.
Andy Huntington Jones: I grew up doing theater where I was raised north of Boston, and I went to college for a degree in theatre. Once I graduated, I moved to New York City, and I've been working on tour and on Broadway for the past seven or eight years.
Bennett: What initially attracted you to audition for BOOK OF MORMON?
Huntington Jones: I auditioned for the first time for the BOOK OF MORMON I think seven years ago right when it debuted in New York. I graduated from college the same year that it became this smash hit on Broadway. So, I remember standing outside the theater waiting for lottery tickets, and I eventually got to see the original company standing in the back row of the theater. But I've auditioned for it two or three times over the last seven years, and the opening and the timing just happened to work out this time.
Bennett: Tell us about your character Elder McKinley. How does he grow in the show?
Huntington Jones: That's a great question...Well, Elder McKinley is the head of the Mormon missionaries that we follow our lead characters on our journey to Uganda. The missionaries have been there for about three months in Uganda, and their entire reason for being there is to bring people into the faith, and they're having a hard time. He teaches our protagonists how to handle things not going the way they want them to go with a song called "Turn It Off." And over the course of the show Elder McKinley learns that turning it off doesn't work very well. And I think that audiences myself included can relate to this young kid learning how to handle his feelings and all these missionaries are in a tense situation in Africa. I would say over the course of the show Elder McKinley learns how to love himself.
Bennett: How has this tour differed from previous tours for you?
Huntington Jones: I would say that touring with a musical about religion, especially a comedy about religion where audience reaction is so much a part of our nightly experience and so much a part of the experience of seeing the show, I would say that you can feel the vibe of the city you're in so much more clearly on a show where we're making jokes about really intense belief systems. I would say that touring and going to different corners of the country where people have different feelings about religion and different religions that they believe in, it's a great way to experience the country and learn about how even though people believe in different things and laugh at different things in the show, at the end of the day every audience leaps to their feet because we are celebrating what it means to be a human, which is to need connection and to want friendship and to want to find meaning in the world. Along the way, we laugh at some of the different ways we try to find meaning, but it has been incredible to see how even though every city reacts differently everybody wants to find purpose in their life.
Bennett: Will this be your first time in New Orleans?
Huntington Jones: This will be my second time in New Orleans. I toured through with Cinderella almost four years ago so I'm excited to come back. I'm definitely excited to come back.
Bennett: With the amount of dancing in the show, do you have a favorite dance number?
Huntington Jones: I would say my favorite number to dance is the last number of the show. It's called "Tomorrow Is a Latter Day," and it's very positive and it is an uplifting moment in the show. It's also very funny, but it's just fun for the entire cast to come together to celebrate hope and uncertainty at the same time.
Bennett: What about singing? Do you have a favorite number to sing?
Huntington Jones: I think my favorite entire number in the show I'm not even involved with. It's called "I Believe," and our lead character sings it towards the end of the show. He is giving himself a pep talk once he has run into some walls along the way. It is my favorite number in the show because it is about this kid reminding himself what he believes in his religion and some of the things he says are really out there, so it's fun to get behind this character and the music's fantastic but within the lyric it's fun to see this character try and talk himself back up to his feet with far out their belief systems.
Bennett: How well do you think the show balances the humor while tackling heavy subject matters?
Huntington Jones: Something that's been surprising to me about the BOOK OF MORMON is how loving it is and how positive it is in terms of how it portrays its characters. Before I saw the show, I thought the BOOK OF MORMON was making fun of this one religion, and it is poking fun at how desperately we all want to believe in something and how sometimes to believe in something we believe in some pretty crazy stories. I think that religion is a huge divisive force in the world and to pour on the country and to have this musical that yes pokes fun at religion but also celebrates the goodness of humanity. I think it's important for us to be able to laugh at ourselves and for us to see other people's beliefs system and to realize that we're all aiming for the same thing which is to connect and to do good on the planet.
Bennett: Would you say that is also the heart of the show?
Huntington Jones: I would say the heart of the show is that yeah, we all want to connect, and we all want something to believe in. I think that the end of the show is uplifting in that we have this group of people who in the face of uncertainty decides to get together and keep trucking along.
Bennett: What do you hope people will take home with them away from the show?
Huntington Jones: One of the reasons that I think the BOOK OF MORMON has been the success it has been is that it is entertaining and incredibly funny, you know it's written by the creators of South Park. The humor is very direct and surprising and unexpected, and it is impossible not to laugh quite frankly, and I think that the strength of the show is that the two and half hours you spend in the theater is just the beginning of your experience. As you are driving home, you will yes remember some of your favorite parts of the show, but I think you will also start to think about what you believe in and what is meaningful to you. It is a thought-provoking piece of theatre, and I think for that to happen while entertaining you and transporting you on this musical Journey for 2 and 1/2 hours is a special way to spend your night.
Bennett: Anything you'd like to say to BOOK OF MORMON fans?
Huntington Jones: We have a lot of people who see the show many many times and will hop into a car and drive to the nearest city that we're coming to and I think that it is always fun to see a familiar face who is coming back to see the show for a fifth, a sixth, a seventh time. The characters in the show they want to connect, and they want to find meaning in their lives, and I think that it is not a coincidence this musical has the subject matter that it does and that it is being portrayed in a live theatrical setting. I think that there is nothing like live theater and a room of 3,000 people going on this journey together it is such an American art form and it is so appropriate for the subject matter where we are finding meaning in our lives. There's nothing like getting in a room and laughing together while we're on the planet. So, I would say to the BOOK OF MORMON fans thank you for coming back, and if I were not in the show, I would be watching it with you. I am also a BOOK OF MORMON fan.
THE BOOK OF MORMON runs through February 5-10, at the Saenger Theatre. For tickets, call (504)-287-0351 or visit saengernola.com.