“The Book of Mormon” is coming back to San Jose with all its hilarity and subversive musical numbers.
If you haven’t heard of the show, a quick refresher on the nine-time Tony Award winning Broadway musical goes like this:
Two Mormon missionaries travel to Uganda to try and teach the residents about Mormonism, while the locals of the town are more concerned with more pressing issues like famine, warlords and the AIDS epidemic.
Also, it’s a comedy, although it doesn’t sound like one based on the description I’ve given. Another interesting thing is it is written by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and includes musical lyrics by Robert Lopez, composer of such hits as “Let it Go” from “Frozen” and Pixar’s emotional ballad, “Remember Me” from “Coco”.
Quite the different audience from “The Book of Mormon” and “South Park”, but it’s also a talented and acclaimed roster fleshing out this story, nonetheless.
Recently we had the opportunity to speak to Ron Bohmer, a veteran stage actor who has been with the tour of “Book of Mormon” since around 2012. In the following we get to hear about his experiences with acting, what he thinks after all this time about “The Book of Mormon”, and why it’s nice to visit San Jose.
Hi Ron, thanks for the interview. To start off I just wanted to know a little bit about yourself. I just wanted to know how you got started in the performing arts. How’d you get to where you are now and the inspiration to get into it?
Yeah, I mean I’ve basically been doing this in one form or another since I was a kid. I started taking dance classes when I was six years old and I was lucky enough to go to a performing arts school in Cincinnati Ohio which is my hometown. I went to college in St. Lewis at Webster University. And as it turns out my youngest daughter is also an actress as well and she also went to Webster University there.
So, it’s become kind of a family affair there. I moved to New York in the 90s my first Broadway show was a revival of Fiddler on the roof with Topol who was the actor who played Tevye in the film. And things just started going from there. I’ve done a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber, right up to playing the Phantom in “The Phantom of The Opera”. It’s been a wonderful career; I’ve been lucky enough to spend almost 30 years now on Broadway and national tour stages.
So, you have a few roles in “The Book of Mormon”. Could you tell me a bit about these different roles you play?
The great thing about the way the show is designed is that the story focuses essentially on two young boys who are on their mission to Uganda and a young Ugandan girl that they meet, and it’s basically how the events of the show changed their lives. But then there’s a large cast of characters around them, and except for those three people everyone else plays multiple roles.
Through the way Elder Price’s mind works, who’s essentially the lead character, he sort of sees all the adults as the same person. So, I play his father, I play Joseph Smith the founder of the, Mormon religion, I play Jesus Christ, [and] I play the president of the Mormon Church. The nice mechanism of all of it is that every time you see an adult Mormon it’s like, ‘That kind of looks like his [Elder Price’s] dad’.
It’s a pretty incredible show in that regard. I think it’s amazing for people who think, ‘Oh I don’t like Broadway’, or ‘I don’t like musicals’. It completely converts them because it’s such an interesting doorway in through the writers of “South Park” who have such a strange and wonderful view of the world.
Their humor is just undeniable in its uniqueness. You know it also brings singing and musical numbers to people in a way that they’ve never quite seen them before. I just think it’s a great doorway into musical theater and people end up really loving it. It’s amazing to me how many people come back again and again.
Given all that praise, could you tell me if you by any chance have a favorite song in this show or a moment whether it’s you acting in it or something that you as an audience member really enjoy?
Well my favorite number to do in this show, my favorite song to do this show is the song that’s called “All-American Prophet” basically because I play Joseph Smith on the show and that’s the most fun I have all night with this wonderful sort of, almost mini sort of version of Les Misérables where we kind of do this short operatic version of Joseph Smith’s alive.
And it’s kind of tongue in cheek but also taken pretty seriously, and yet just undeniably funny and through the arc of that I get to show Joseph Smith’s life from his discovery of the golden plates on which the Book of Mormon was founded all the way up to his death and his death is, I hope, quite funny. So, we have a good time with that as well.
So going back to what you were saying about how this is a good introduction to Broadway for people who might not know about this production or what it’s all about, how would you present an invitation to “Book of Mormon”, and say, ‘This is a good night out’?
Well I think that the first thing people have to be prepared for with “Book of Mormon” is that there are some shocking elements to it. There’s some strong language, there are words used in the show that a lot of people have sworn they’d never use in their lifetime. The great thing about the show is everything is based in fact and in reality. None of it is made up.
It is a story about what happens when, if your goal is to bring people to faith and they have literally no faith, what happens when you figure out how to make that faith more about their lives, and it’s actually applicable. Through the course of that some ridiculous and hysterical things happen but the ultimate achievement of it is that everyone ends up walking away with a little bit more faith. So, the journey of the show, even though it is irreverent, is a very faith affirming show. And along the way you will laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed in your life and you’re going to see some amazing musical numbers. It’s a great journey.
Thank you, Ron. Now, one of my last questions. Your acting career has spanned 30 years, so what would you say is something that keeps you coming back on stage? What is that gets you up to get on stage and continue doing these performances?
Wow that’s a great question Arturo, thanks for that. I mean, I think for me what I’ve come to discover about being in front of an audience [was] when I was a kid it was certain, like this I want to be, in front of an audience. But that was just the thrill of being onstage and being in front of an audience.
As you get older you kinda figure out why and I honestly think acting is a practice, and what are you practicing? Well I think we’re practicing truthfulness and I think we’re looking more and more for a way to reveal more of our self in a more authentic way through the lens of the role and the story that the audience is watching. So, for me it’s that constant quest for the most unmasked truthful behavior that one can show.
Thank you very much for that insight. Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add about this production that you’d like people to know about?
I think I have been in the show every time it’s played San Jose, so this will be my fourth trip, I think. I’ve always loved being in that region. It’s a wonderful theater there I love that building. I very clearly can see in my mind the approach to it and the downtown area as well and we always have such a great time there.
I’ve never been with a show that’s had the kind of longevity that can return again and again through a town like this. I just think it’s a delight to get to share this with your San Jose audience, those who were there for the first time and those who are coming back again. I look forward to having San Jose in my life again. I really do love it there.
“The Book of Mormon” and all its hilarity arrive at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts July 16-21. Information and tickets available through broadwaysanjose.com.