'Book of Mormon' provokes thought for actor
Donna Isbell Walker , [email protected] 12:01 p.m. ET Jan. 24, 2017 | Updated 3:20 p.m. ET Jan. 24, 2017
For Gabe Gibbs, playing Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon” has been an exciting and thought-provoking experience.
A would-be missionary who ends up in Uganda, Elder Price endures a series of faith-challenging misadventures in the irreverent, Tony Award-winning musical, which opens Jan. 31 at the Peace Center.
The role has been a catalyst for some interesting conversations, Gibbs said in a recent phone interview.
“You’re talking to a pastor’s kid right now,” Gibbs said. “He loves the show. He and I both do, for the merit it has in sparking conversations that otherwise wouldn’t be sparked in a religious or semi-religious or even non-religious household; it doesn’t matter what way you swing. There are a lot of questions to be asked and conversations to be had.”
“The Book of Mormon,” written by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, has provoked controversy, as well as thought, since its Broadway debut in 2011. And that flippant “South Park” sensibility brings in an audience that might not show up for a straight-forward look at religion, Gibbs said.
“I don’t think people would come and see it if you said, ‘Hey, do you want to see a musical about religion?’ To your average 35-year-old dude, that sounds like hell on earth,” he said. “So the fact that it is covered in a ‘South Park’ flair and flavor makes it more digestible in a lot of ways. But it really is a show talking about, ‘Here are the things that we see that are broken in organized religion,’ not ‘Religion is broken.’ I think people can sometimes see the show and go, ‘These guys hate religion.’ And I don’t think that’s the heart of the show. I think the heart of the show is, ‘Hey friends, let’s call into question some of the things that are askew and find the heart of why religion became organized in the first place and what the intent was.’ And I think there’s really such merit to that. “
The Elder Price character, in all his teenage “naïve arrogance,” is a lot of fun to play, Gibbs said.
“The idea of being 19 and just knowing how the world works, or at least thinking you know how the world works, there’s just such fun. I think every guy has at least had that point in his life. … I have to be careful as the actor to not be like, full-blown, unrelatably arrogant. But the sort of fun, teenage, ‘We know how this goes, we get it.’ We’ve seen the teenage kid who knows how the world works kind of thing. That’s the fun for me.”
It’s a challenging role to step into eight times a week, especially with the vocal demands of some of the songs, but Gibbs said he works hard to stay healthy while he’s on the road.
Unlike some of his cast mates, who know every nuance of every “South Park” episode, Gibbs got to know the animated series as an adult because he wasn’t allowed to watch “South Park” as a kid.
He said he was especially impressed by the series’ current season, which focused on the 2016 election.
“They had two different endings prepped based on who won. They’re not asleep at the wheel,” Gibbs said.
While he was performing in the Broadway production of “The Book of Mormon,” Gibbs had an opportunity meet Stone and Parker, who co-wrote "The Book of Mormon" with Robert Lopez.
“They’re very kind and still have a lot of heart and investment in the show, which is great because it’s been going on for almost six years now, so it’s cool to see they’re as invested as they are.”
YOU CAN GO
What: “The Book of Mormon”
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31-Feb, 2; 8 p.m. Feb. 3; 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 4; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 5
Where: Peace Center
How much: $45-$125
For more: www.peacecenter.org