Two dudes and big smiles5/4/2016
“What Matt and Trey do is an amazing thing,” exclaims Daxton Bloomquist, referring to Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of “The Book of Mormon,” the uproarious musical about Mormons seeking converts in Africa.
Bloomquist has been with the show for three years, but the subject still makes him giddy.
“It’s like in ‘South Park,’ ” he continues, referring to Parker’s and Stone’s cartoon hit. “They make you see the silliness in what’s supposed to be serious, even sacred. And they invite you to join in the silliness.”
Bloomquist worked with Stone and Parker and their agile songsmith Robert Lopez in New York. They wanted to give “Mormon” a fine-tuning to make sure this latest tour packed the same wallop as the 2011 original. Hailed as “the best musical of this century,” the show took home armloads of awards.
“They’re just two dudes,” says Bloomquist. “Very normal guys. But they’re totally into the show.”
The enthusiasm is contagious.
“I can’t believe how long I’ve gotten to do this — and how much fun it still is,” Bloomquist gushes.
His entire theater career has taken him by surprise. A Kansas farm kid and a jock in high school, Bloomquist still sounds at times like a small-town boy. When he speaks of dressing in drag for “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” one of the wildest numbers, he exclaims, “It’s a hoot!”
The cross-dressing also reveals how careful this comedy is about its details. Bloomquist’s character, Elder McKinley, is a closeted queer, and so to have him turn into Liza Minelli (“with a boa,” adds Bloomquist) makes just the right nightmarish touch. Likewise, when the show’s bumbling hero, Elder Cunningham, convinces a pretty African to get baptized, they go into a rhythm-and-blues duet that makes the ritual sound like smoking hot foreplay.
On tour, Cunningham is played by Cody Strand, another Midwesterner and Broadway veteran. Bloomquist calls him and the second lead, Ryan Bondy, the best he’s seen in these roles.
“Those two work beautifully together,” he says. “They have to get the story rolling every night, and they always set the right tempo.”
In other words, in “Mormon,” the human element matters more than in most big New York productions. The African costumes are fun and colorful, but nothing so eye-popping and complicated as in “Lion King.” The tour bus carries only a handful of musicians — locals in each city fill in the other spots — and they handle a lot of the backstage tech as well. At the Civic Center, when Bloomquist turns into Liza, someone from Des Moines will zip up his dress.
The cast, of course, checks the acoustics and stage dimensions at each venue. “But the real preparation is about pumping up the energy,” says Bloomquist.
He knows he sounds like a missionary.
“But that’s what this show does for you,” he admits. “It’ll put a big Mormon smile on anyone’s face.”
Overheard in the Lobby: The StageWest 2016-17 season includes the first local production of the Pulitzer winner “August: Osage County.” CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.