"I Believe!": Cody Jamison Strand, Denee Benton and Pierce Cassedy Share Stories From The Book of Mormon National Tour With Second City

By Evan Henerson
28 Mar 2014

Denče Benton
Photo by Joan Marcus

"Many of our students are working in theatre, film and television, but a lot of them are not yet at that point. I hope that it's really informative for them to hear about the actors' experiences, what it's like to do the show eight times a week, what training does it take to get them there and what was the break that got them the show. I hope all that stuff is valuable to them."

Featuring book, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, The Book of Mormon chronicles the adventures of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, a pair or Mormon missionaries sent to a poverty and disease-ravaged village of Uganda. A critical and box-office smash, the musical earned nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score.

Humor and gratitude for the opportunity were in abundant supply among all three of the touring actors. Benton, who is set to earn her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in May, won the role in an open call and had to beg her instructors for the time off from her classwork. The South Daokta-born Strand, the son of a pastor, was a touring standby before moving to the Broadway company in 2013.

Of the three participants in the talk back, Cassedy wins the award for persistence. The Tallahassee native flipped for the Mormon score based solely on listening to the cast recording and reported "auditioning my face off" at open calls — including one in which he was cut because the casting agents didn't take to his headshot.

"I got sent home just based on how my face looked," said Cassedy. "So don't let that ever deter you. Sometimes they just don't like your face. And then sometimes they do because I went back a little bit later for this specific role, and I guess it worked out."

Although Mormon has been playing on Broadway for more than three years, all three actors logged preparation time with the show's original co-director Trey Parker, who assisted with their respective put-ins. The performers lauded Parker's creative and comic instincts as well as his rapport with actors and love of musical theatre. Cassedy said his jaw nearly hit the floor when Parker offered him a piece of stage wisdom "from one comedian to another."

They largely affirmed the show party line that Parker and Stone (the creators of "South Park") are not using The Book of Mormon to sharpen their satiric scalpels on the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

"I think religion (as a whole) is this beautiful mystery to them even if they don't necessarily partake in it," said Benton. "I feel like the writers have the best of intentions."