Thursday, May 18, 2017

'Mormon': Ringing doorbells with the boy next door

Gabe Gibbs and the cast of The Book of Mormon
photo by Joan Marcus
by Jennifer Haaland

"The best thing about playing Elder Price these days is that first doorbell ring that brings a roar," laughed leading man Gabe Gibbs in a visit about the Book of Mormon's second, consecutive extended run at ASU Gammage that opens this weekend.

After a couple year Phoenix Valley tour drought, the long-awaited national tour last season proved to be the desert's hottest Gammage item (until Hamilton came along in next season's brochure).  The naughty musical comedy by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker that spoofs the Mormon Church is set primarily in a poor, desolate area of Uganda tyrannized by a local warlord.

"More than anything on planet Earth, I also love singing 'I Believe," Gibbs continues, citing the show's affirmation ballad that's a true opportunity to share the power inside himself, both musically and dramatically.

Elder Price, his sidekick Elder Cunningham and a host of other young Mormon missionaries huddle together in their Uganda village station coming to terms with the challenges of faith conversions and some of their own doubts.  Those other actors are sustaining, Gibbs says, both on and off stage.

"I love especially the little hiccups and unexpected things we need to fix or roll with," says Gibbs about a mishap that helped provide on-the-job joy and energy. "Backstage recently a local dresser was helping me with a quick change and put the wrong pants on me. Elder Cunningham is quite a bit bigger boy than me. Yet there I was, walking across the stage in someone else's pants.  We're still laughing about it."

Speaking of stretches, Gibbs talks about the parts of Elder Price that fit him best and the ones he needed to rinse and repeat a few times for Gibbs and Price to better merge and suit each other. The New Yorker  and Bostonian traits of Gibbs' college days and young adulthood make it easy for him to identify with the bold assertiveness of Elder Price's mission.

"I was that 19-year-old boy who was pretty sure I had the world figured out. Also, like Elder Price, I wanted to be that A+ teacher's pet," Gibbs says, laughing again about his Michigan roots that helped him grow up both "driven and Midwestern nice."

"Elder Price is aggressive for his beliefs, but he is soft and sweet alongside that perky intelligence. When Elder Cunningham confesses a sad family truth, I'm proud that Elder Price doesn't cut and run like he wants to.  Instead, his response is soft and kind."

"But man, I'm really a loosey-goosey guy in my own lifestyle. Elder Price is so buttoned-up and straight-laced. Because it's so different than how I operate, that felt very unnatural.  But as soon as I figured out how to lock and load on his need to be perfect, Elder Price fell into place for me. It's clear those traits inform who he is internally, too."

When asked to try and explain why Book of Mormon, which is as uproarious as it is irreverent, came to be so wildly popular, Gibbs hazards a pretty plausible opinion.

"It's built on the genius writers of South Park and their infinite fandom. What's unexpected is, it has a heart, a message, a point. Those fans and the people they talk to are surprised by what's at the heart of the show."

Spoken like a sincere Midwesterner with just a dusting of wry South Park humor, Gibbs exclaims in closing, "Holy crud! It's like this show actually means something."

CLICK HERE for more information on The Book of Mormon at ASU Gammage

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