Actress Berlande Millus Talks About Working on the Hit Satire, the Real-world Implications of the Show, and How She Connects to Her Character’s Humanity
Berlande is an actress who is starring as Nabulungi in the hit musical comedy The Book of Mormon, playing at San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts from November 22-27. Photo Credit: Broadway San Jose

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

The Book of Mormon is a musical comedy that satirizes religion, specifically The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and endorses the power of love and service.

First premiering in 2011, The Book of Mormon has had more than a decade of massive success and has earned nine Tony Awards, a Grammy, as well as much other acclaim. Written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez, the show continues to captivate audiences and most importantly, make them laugh.

After two previous sold-out engagements, the show will return to San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts from November 22-27.

Recently we had the opportunity to speak to an actor with the show, who gave us a behind the scenes look at their character, the story of The Book of Mormon, and her favorite aspects of working on the acclaimed comedy.

Berlande is a New York based singer, actor and dancer who has starred in such stage productions as Dreamgirls, Sister Act The Musical, and Legally Blonde. With her fourth big role, she takes on the mantle of Nabulungi, one of the main protagonists of the show.

To start off, I wanted to hear about how you made your way into the performing arts. What was your inspiration and how did that route happen for you?

My mom was just the type to keep her kids super busy, so we were involved in almost every school activity, as many sports as we could, and Drama Club was just the one that stuck for me. So she had put us in dance lessons and voice classes, and I always had a knack for it.

How long have you been working on The Book of Mormon?

It’s a post pandemic contract. So we started rehearsals back in August and hit the road in September. We opened the show in late September, and here we are!

How’s the experience of touring with the show been so far?

So far, so good. I really do love being able to create a show. Well, not create, obviously. The show has been alive for over a decade now. But to be in the rehearsal room and really get in tune with our characters, with my colleagues and cast mates, and now to be able to see how it’s coming together on stage and even the ways the similarities and differences from rehearsals as we become more and more comfortable with what we’re doing in the show.

As you progress as an ensemble and as a whole team, does everyone gel a little more?

Yeah. I’m picking up on people’s habits and patterns and even the things that you naturally start to incorporate into your track because I feel how the other person is going to say their line or what their physicality may be. And then, of course, anytime an understudy or swing goes in, there’s always a wild card there, so it keeps you on your toes. But I really do enjoy it, especially truly working together with someone else.

In your perspective, what is the core idea of the show?

The general plot, I guess, there are two Mormon boys who think that they’re going to go out and change the world with their message that they’ve been trained to dictate. However, in their ignorance and arrogance, they are not making themselves fully aware of people’s circumstances. And I think that actually touches base with a lot of things.

Not to get political, but a lot of people can relate to that in the everyday world of people coming in thinking that they can change how you view things or change how you maneuver your life without actually knowing what your life is. Like I said, I think it takes a certain level of ignorance and arrogance to think that you’re going to do that.

Can you tell us a little bit about your character, Nabulungi?

Yes, I play Nabulungi. When the boys come over to Kigali, Uganda, they meet very reluctant villagers who have heard this all before. You know, they seen many missionaries come in and out, and nothing in their daily lives actually change. They still have to deal with the hardships they deal with, despite the various words that missionaries come to dictate.

So Nabulungi is very hopeful and naive in being able to think that she can get her villages out of their circumstances. The boys coming from Salt Lake City have swapped some of their stories to make them applicable to the circumstances that the villages are going through. So this is the first time that she’s seen a connection, and she really turns into a leader in her community to help work them through standing up for themselves and getting them to better circumstances. And obviously it’s a comedy, so hijinks ensue.

In terms of bringing this character to life, are there any similarities you see in this character and yourself?

Yes, well, I think as an actor, obviously, everybody’s playing a different character who’s different from themselves, but you always have to bring a piece of yourself to the forefront.

I think going in with who you are and adding in the circumstances of the character as opposed to trying to be something different is the key. Especially when we’re talking about a satire comedy. You can’t walk in trying to make people laugh. You have to come in with the truth and understand that the truth might be a little bit funny.

In the way that she connects with myself, I think I end up with these roles frequently, where there’s youthfulness, there’s a hopefulness, there’s, like I said before, slight naiveness, but it comes from a really good place. I’m a Pisces, so I live in delusion, I live in fantasy, [laughs] so it’s easy for me to touch base with people who are like that as well.

What is your favorite aspect of the show?

Well, one of my favorite numbers is the Act One finale. It’s actually the first time that the entire cast is on stage together in the show. And I feel that you can really feel that energy blast into not only the audience, but onto the individuals on stage. And I think for me, one of the aspects I do love, it’s funny, as separated as we can be throughout the show, is the sense of community that we have with each other and carrying each other along.

And that goes back to building those relationships with the people you work with as the tour goes along.

Oh, yeah. And this job, being in the theater arts, is interesting because there are a lot of jobs that can relate to depending on your coworkers for creativity, for energy. We feed off of each other in that way, and it is such a blessing. Sometimes not so much. Even if I’m having a bad day, when I see someone else giving their best version of the show, it encourages me to step up just to match their energy and then, of course, match the energy of the people who came to pay to see the show.

Thank you. My last question now, why would you recommend the show to people who may not know of it? Why would you say it’s a good time to come check out The Book of Mormon?

Well, The Book of Mormon has been on Broadway, like I said, for over a decade. It has toured several different countries, so it really is a hit phenomenon. People love this show. I love this show. If you are part of the South Park generation and understand that level, that style of comedy and satire, this is really the show for you.

And like I said, beyond the jokes and the comedy, there really are real world implications and connections and really, a heart of gold beating in the center of the show. So I think that people can really enjoy themselves and let themselves be free, especially if you have a cocktail or two before dining.

 Is there anything that you’d like to add that you’d like people to know about or just like to add in there?

I do have a website, it’s just my name, https://www.berlandemillus.com/ If you can add that to the article, I would really appreciate it. Are you going to come see the show anytime soon?

Find more information on Berlande at berlandemillus.com. More information on the show, and tickets, is available at broadwaysanjose.com.

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