Two and a half years after accepting the role of standby to Josh Gad in the original Broadway company of The Book of Mormon on Broadway, character actor Jared Gertner has "manned-up" in New York, across the United States and now in London, as perpetually underestimated missionary Arnold Cunningham. With hundreds of performances logged, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more "well-versed" performer to speak on the life of the edgy smash hit, as it premieres internationally.
The London production of The Book of Mormon — which also stars Gavin Creel, who got his own Playbill Leading Men profile in 2012, when he opened as Elder Price in the U.S. national tour — is set to open March 21 at The Prince of Wales Theatre.
Before a recent rehearsal, we caught up with Gertner by telephone to learn more about his Mormon journey, being a new member of the London theatre community, and the enthusiastic audiences that have greeted the show since the beginning.
Congratulations on the London production. How's the response so far?
Jared Gertner: It's been unbelievable. I didn't know what to expect. I had heard that British audiences were a bit more conservative then American audiences. So I thought, "they'll really like the show, they'll think it's very funny and very smart, but they might not be as raucous as in America." But I've been proven wrong. They have been outrageous- on their feet, hootin' and hollerin'.
So you've been received as "American musical-comedy missionaries" — a bit better than the Elders arriving in Uganda?
JG: [Laughs] You know, they've been really wonderful. And I was concerned that they would have their arms crossed, thinking, "Why'd they bring these two American guys over here? What do they have that we couldn't have done just as well?" And no one has treated us that way. People have been so excited for our arrival. Gavin [Creel]'s been here twice before so I figured people would be happy to see him again. But they've treated me wonderfully too; and I feel like I've been received here warmer than anywhere I've ever worked.
You're now a part of your third original company of the show, on your second continent, making your West End debut. Take me back to how the whole Mormon experience initially came about for you?
JG: I had heard about this sort of "untitled" comedy show from Bobby Lopez and the "South Park" guys — I think a lot of people had heard about it — and there had been some very private readings and workshops. As far as I knew, from investigation, the only part I could play was the one part Josh Gad was already playing. So I assumed I wouldn't ever really have a go at it — except maybe much later in the run — so I just sort of wrote it off. Then when they were opening the show on Broadway, they decided to add a standby position. So they called my agent to see if I'd be willing to come in. I'd never covered before and didn't know that I wanted to. Not that I have anything against covering, I just love being on stage. I was working out of town with Scott Barnhardt, one of the original Broadway cast members and one of my best friends. Scott had done the workshops and said, "Whatever it takes to get in the room, you have to be involved with this show." I had just gotten married two weeks earlier, and thought, "I guess I should at least audition for something that will keep me in town."
So with one day off to come home and audition, all I wanted to do was make Matt [Stone] & Trey [Parker] laugh. I thought If I can make these guys laugh, then the whole thing will be worth it — whether I do the show or not. I made them laugh, twice as I recall and the next day they called and ask if I wanted to be the standby. Again I hemmed and hauled, but my husband said "if you get a job in town, you have to take it." And I'm so happy I did and that my best bud Scottie, told me to be a part of this, because it's been the most incredible journey and I never really saw any of it coming. I thought maybe if I'm lucky, I'll get to take over in New York. But to open the tour, and then open the West End- it's been unbelievable.
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