'The Book of Mormon'
Welshman Mark Evans is on a mission to make you believe he's an all-American prophet
The missionaries are finally ringing our doorbells.
By that, I mean those white-shirted, preternaturally chipper, singing, dancing representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in The Book of Mormon. Two years after South Park and Team America creators Trey Stone and Matt Parker invaded Broadway with this similarly outrageous look at the faith founded by Joseph Smith and managed, miraculously, to win the hearts of audiences in huge numbers, as well as nine Tony awards, the first national tour lands at Bass Concert Hall for two weeks. In it, straight-arrow son of Utah Elder Price is being played by native son of Wales Mark Evans, who has previously worked only in the United Kingdom. The Chronicle called him to ask about crossing the pond and slipping into American shoes.
Austin Chronicle: So what's a nice Welsh lad like you doing in a play like this?
Mark Evans: Who knows? It's kind of an odd story, I suppose. I was auditioning in London last year, and they said, "We actually want you to be over on the first national tour of America." I visited New York for the first time five, maybe six years ago, and I love New York, and I love Americans. I like the American approach to everything. This is very much a generalization, but I find it much more of a positive approach. You ask anyone a question, and it's like, "Oh, yes. Yes, I'll help you. Yes, I can," as opposed to "Hmm, I'm not sure." I like that mentality.
AC: Trey and Matt's South Park is literally a cartoon, and there's a cartoonish aspect to this show, which audiences come to see. What's your trick for playing a character who has a lot of comedy to him but needs a real sincerity for the show to work?
ME: I don't need to have a trick, to be honest. All I need to do is get out there and deliver the script in as true a form as possible, because the script is foolproof. They did a lot of work on this. They're real fans of the true musical theatre format, and they've stuck to it with this show. Obviously, it's aimed at the South Park audiences, but [the audience base] covers such a broad spectrum. We get teenagers through people who are very, very old – we see them on the front row, and they're the first up on their feet. You think, "My gosh, it's so controversial, and some of the language is quite explicit." [But] the heart and the truth in the story is so heartwarming at the end of the show that it gives everything a purpose; it justifies all the profanity.
AC: Do you feel like you're on a mission yourself?
ME: Hell yeah! I'm on the other side of the world from my usual support system: my friends, family, my agent, my manager, even my chiropractor. I'm here, teamed with my mission companion, which is Chris O'Neill, who plays Elder Cunningham.
I was very anxious and overwhelmed by it all at the beginning, being thrown into this exceptionally well-written and phenomenally successful show. I'm the first British actor to play this all-American role, and to be doing that in America on the first national tour, it was like, "oh shit," basically. How am I going to deal with the pressure of this? But it's all been a phenomenal ride, and it keeps getting better and better. And it's amazing not only to play this incredible role in this amazing show but also to be paid to see America. I'll be honest, there are places on this tour that I'd never even heard of. I'd never heard of Des Moines, Iowa, before going there. And here I am getting to experience two weeks in Dallas, two weeks in Houston, two weeks in San Antonio, two weeks in Austin, New Orleans, Orlando, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale ... I'm getting paid to go to all these holiday destinations and having a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
The Book of Mormon runs Oct. 1-13, Tuesday-Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 2 & 8pm; Sunday, 1 & 7pm, at Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Dr., UT campus. For more information, call 512/477-6060 or visit www.texasperformingarts.org.