Suburban actors return home with 'Book of Mormon' tour

  • Cody Jamison Strand plays the not-so bright Elder Cunningham in the second national tour of the hit Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," which returns to the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago from Wednesday, Feb. 25, through Sunday, May 17. Actor Rob Colletti from Glen Ellyn and Wheaton is Strand's standby.

    Cody Jamison Strand plays the not-so bright Elder Cunningham in the second national tour of the hit Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," which returns to the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago from Wednesday, Feb. 25, through Sunday, May 17. Actor Rob Colletti from Glen Ellyn and Wheaton is Strand's standby. Courtesy of Joan Marcus

  • Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member James Vincent Meredith continues to star as Ugandan chief Mafala Hatimbi in the second national tour of "The Book of Mormon," which returns to Chicago's Bank of America Theatre.

    Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member James Vincent Meredith continues to star as Ugandan chief Mafala Hatimbi in the second national tour of "The Book of Mormon," which returns to Chicago's Bank of America Theatre.

  • Rob Colletti, who grew up in Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, is the standby for the lead role of Elder Cunningham in the national tour of "The Book of Mormon," which returns to Chicago's Bank of America Theatre starting Wednesday, Feb. 25.

    Rob Colletti, who grew up in Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, is the standby for the lead role of Elder Cunningham in the national tour of "The Book of Mormon," which returns to Chicago's Bank of America Theatre starting Wednesday, Feb. 25.

  • Uganda native Nabulungi (Denee Benton), left, gets ready to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Mormon missionary Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand) in "The Book of Mormon."

    Uganda native Nabulungi (Denee Benton), left, gets ready to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Mormon missionary Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand) in "The Book of Mormon." Courtesy of Joan Marcus

  • Elder Price (David Larsen), center, and Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand), far right, are part of a group of newly trained missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints awaiting to find out where they will be serving their missions in the second national tour of "The Book of Mormon."

    Elder Price (David Larsen), center, and Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand), far right, are part of a group of newly trained missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints awaiting to find out where they will be serving their missions in the second national tour of "The Book of Mormon." Courtesy of Joan Marcus

 
 

When "The Book of Mormon" opened in Chicago in late 2012, many assumed it would follow in the footsteps of "Wicked" and "Jersey Boys" to be the next major Broadway musical to rack up a multiyear run in the Windy City. After all, the 2011 adults-only hit musical -- dreamed up by "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker with "Avenue Q" co-creator Robert Lopez -- was sold out months in advance in New York at the time.

But "The Book of Mormon" left town in October 2013 to become the second of the show's two North American tours. Now the tour returns for a three-month run back at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre starting Wednesday, Feb. 25, giving local audiences another chance to see what the fuss was all about.

Still in the ensemble are two local actors: Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member and Oak Park resident James Vincent Meredith continues to play the Ugandan chief Mafala Hatimbi, while former Wheaton/Glen Ellyn resident Rob Colletti returns as the understudying standby for the role of Elder Cunningham, one of the two major missionary characters who find themselves experiencing extreme culture shock as they try to proselytize in a militia-menaced African village.

"I've had a great time with the show, and I've been really lucky to get to see the country," said Meredith, who is traveling on his first national tour with his wife and 20-month-old son in tow. "I'm doing exactly what other company members have suggested when touring with kids because my son is still at an age where he's still fairly portable."

Colletti is relishing the chance to see so many different cities as part of his first tour. He spends most nights waiting backstage in case the regular Elder Cunningham, Cody Jamison Strand, can't go on. But Colletti does get to perform quite a bit, especially when Strand goes on vacation.

Colletti also had a three-month break from the tour when he made his Broadway debut as an Elder Cunningham standby in the New York company.

"I did several shows, and the audiences there were incredible," Colletti said. "It was a unique experience playing the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, which is such a small Broadway house in comparison to some of the other theaters on the tour."

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Indeed, both Meredith and Colletti said they had to frequently adjust their performances or energy levels based on the different-sized auditoriums where "The Book of Mormon" plays -- especially massive venues like the 3,200-seat Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. And though Meredith plays the same role for eight shows a week, he says there are many ways to keep his performance fresh.

"You would think after so many shows that you might be thinking about other things like your dinner in the middle of a performance," said Meredith, who is contracted with the tour through December. "But there's new stuff to encounter with each new audience and within the role itself. There's also casting changes, so you're always adjusting your performance when you're working with new people."

Both Colletti and Meredith are excited to return home to Chicago. Meredith plans to accompany the ensemble to see Steppenwolf Theatre's current production of "Marie Antoinette," while Colletti hopes to make multiple runs to Portillo's. They're also happy to bring "The Book of Mormon" back to the theater where their tour launched.

"It's almost like it was made for the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago, and it has a very similar feel to what happens in New York every night at the Eugene O'Neill," Colletti said. "It has that same magic and allure."

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