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updated: 5/14/2013 5:26 AM

Suburban man the standby star of 'Book of Mormon'

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  • Rob Colletti, left, and Ben Platt, pose in front of the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago. Platt plays nerdy but lovable Elder Cunningham in "The Book of Mormon," and Colletti, who grew up in Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, is his standby.

       Rob Colletti, left, and Ben Platt, pose in front of the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago. Platt plays nerdy but lovable Elder Cunningham in "The Book of Mormon," and Colletti, who grew up in Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, is his standby.
    Jamie Sotonoff | Staff Photographer

  • Rob Colletti

      Rob Colletti

  • Ben Platt, 19, plays the lead role of Elder Cunningham in the hit musical "The Book of Mormon." His standby is Rob Colletti, 26, of Wheaton.

      Ben Platt, 19, plays the lead role of Elder Cunningham in the hit musical "The Book of Mormon." His standby is Rob Colletti, 26, of Wheaton.
    Courtesy of 'The Book of Mormon'

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Eight times a week, Rob Colletti goes down to the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago, warms up his vocals, sits in the dressing room while the hit musical "The Book of Mormon" is performed and then goes home.

Colletti, who grew up in Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, is the standby for the lead role of the nerdy but lovable Elder Cunningham, and his job is to be ready to fill in for actor Ben Platt if he were to suddenly become ill or injured during the performance.

Colletti also gets to play the role when Platt's on vacation. Since the show opened in December, Colletti's played the part only five times, when Platt went to the MTV Movie Awards (he played Benji in the movie "Pitch Perfect").

For those shows, Colletti made sure his suburban family and friends were in the audience, including his former theater director from St. Francis High School, Carolyn Brady-Reilly.

"It was incredible. I've never done a show of this caliber," said Colletti, 26. "For me, it's just a learning experience. There's no one I'd rather learn from than (Platt)."

The few times Colletti's performed the role of Elder Cunningham, he said he brings his own style to the character, a well-meaning but clueless missionary in Uganda who teaches a wildly distorted, off-kilter version of "The Book" -- because he never actually read it.

While it might seem frustrating to be a standby, Colletti cherishes the opportunity. He said it's a big deal for an actor to be a standby for a huge show like "The Book of Mormon," which a New York Times critic called "the best musical of the century."

Despite its boundary-pushing script, cowritten by "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the musical satire is often sold out, making it the hottest theater ticket in Chicago.

This is Colletti's first national tour, so he's trying to soak in as much as he can from the experience.

Colletti first learned to act at St. Francis, where he was both a football player and regular theater cast member. A school field trip to the Steppenwolf for Young Adults show, "The Tale of Two Cities," ended up being a life-changing experience for him.

"That was my moment where I said, 'I think this is something I need to pursue,'" he said. "I'd never seen acting, or staging, like that."

Colletti's classmates voted him "Most Likely to be a Star," and he went on to study acting at Illinois State University and then Columbia College.

At Columbia, he spent what they call "a semester abroad" at Second City doing comedy studies. The semester included full days of classes on topics like the history of comedy and how to write sketches. The final project was to do the performance live on the Second City stage.

"It was the greatest experience," he said.

Before now, Colletti's had roles in some smaller Chicago stage productions, including the "The Original Grease" and "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." He's also done a few commercials and been part of some Second City ensembles. But "The Book of Mormon" is his biggest show to date.

"My goal would be to go to New York and try and do the Broadway thing," he said. "But if Chicago is calling my name, I'll stay here."

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking to feature people from the suburbs who are in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a good feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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