Wednesday, July 2, 2014 | 2:01 a.m.
Actors Cody Jamison Strand, as the misfit Elder Cunningham, and David Larsen, as the seemingly perfect Elder Price, are the dynamic duo at the center of “The Book of Mormon,” with superb supporting work by Denee Benton as Nabulungi.
The nine-time 2013 Tony Award-winning musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park”) and Robert Lopez (who this year won an Oscar for “Let It Go” from “Frozen”) has had a nearly monthlong sold-out run at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts that ends Sunday.
Strand, whose comedic and vocal range in “The Book of Mormon” is nothing less than astounding, recently chatted about the Book of Mormon, the Smith Center, apple pie, touring and Las Vegas.
Congratulations on your success with “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway and on tour. How did the role come about?
Thank you! After I graduated from college in 2012, I was told to try out for this role in “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway, and I got it. Beginner’s luck! I also was Elder Cunningham in the first national tour and now the current tour.
You are comedic genius as Elder Cunningham. Where do you find your inspiration in the role?
Thank you very much! Y’know, I don’t know. I saw Josh Gad in the role on Broadway, and he was really inspiring. I am kind of stealing from Josh (laughs). He’s the original.
Unlike your character, have you read “The Book of Mormon”?
I have not, either (laughs). Not even close, but little snippets here and there. Those aren’t props; we really do use the Book of Mormon. But it’s really long!
What has been the most memorable moment touring with the show?
Jim Carrey being in the audience was memorable.
And just opening with this new tour. I remember performing with this tour the first time, it was in San Francisco. Elder Price, David Larsen, and Nabulungi, Denee Benton, were new. I had been with the show a year at that point, and with them it was like a brand new show. That was memorable.
You’re at the Smith Center for nearly one month. Do you enjoy touring?
I love touring and seeing new places and playing at all these difference venues. The Smith Center is absolutely gorgeous. It’s unreal. We get to see the theater with the lights on and the seats empty, and it’s a galaxy of lights. It’s crazy.
What’s the most difficult part of touring?
Being away from home and my friends in New York City. You get used to it, though. It’s very different.
This run at Smith Center, nearly one month, is a long stay in one place. Do you try to make Las Vegas home, if only for one month?
Oh, absolutely. This is a long stay versus one or two nights in one city. It’s nice to have a kitchen.
How often do you get home?
I’ve been on the road for six months now. I don’t get home a lot.
What will be the first thing you do when you do return home?
A whole lot of nothing (laughs). Then get together with my friends and go to restaurants and shows.
What has been the biggest surprise with touring versus Broadway?
On Broadway, you get used to the same routine. It’s the same over and over again. But on tour, every day and night after night, it can be a new theater and a new sets of things to get use to, new people and crew. But I think the toughest part is the travel part and hotel after hotel.
What are your favorite shows on Broadway?
I just saw the “Pippin” revival, and it rocked my world! I loved the revival. I just saw “Once” and loved it.
So I looked at your personal website. Are you really a Top Chef? And what’s one of your secrets to baking a mean apple pie?
Oh, no, you didn’t! It’s terrible, it’s the worst website ever, I don’t know why I still have it up. It says that I’m an actor, singer, clown and Top Chef, right?
I’m not really a Top Chef, but my secret to a mean apple pie is to use as much butter as you want!
What would be your dream role?
If they ever bring back “The Man of La Mancha,” I would love to play Sancho Panza. Sign me up!
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I play a lot of video games, too much by a normal person’s standards. I have played literally everything and am running out of games on PlayStation 3. It’s time to upgrade to PlayStation 4.
Have you had time to do anything fun in Las Vegas?
I recently took a weekend off when friends came to visit, and we hung out on the Strip and saw “Ka.” It was mesmerizing. I loved that show. And we also saw Tournament of Kings. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life — drinking beer, eating all the food and shouting at the knights.
“The Book of Mormon” is at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday.
Don Chareunsy is senior editor for arts and entertainment of the Las Vegas Sun.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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