'Mormon' star: On a mission

JAY GABLER , vita.mn | Updated 2/7/2013

Welsh actor makes his American debut in 'Book of Mormon' lead role.

Though he’s starring in the hottest touring Broadway show in recent memory, Mark Evans isn’t yet recognized out on the streets … unless he’s wearing his “Book of Mormon” cast hoodie.

“People will say, ‘Omigod, are you in “The Book of Mormon”?’ and they treat you completely differently” than when he goes incognito, says the Welsh actor. “They’ll say, ‘I tried to get tickets to that, and I just couldn’t!’ I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, we can’t, either.’ ”

In its inaugural U.S. tour, the musical from “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone has been generating the kind of buzz generally reserved for blockbuster movies — and unlike a movie, tickets for a touring stage production are finite in number. Lines stretched down Hennepin Avenue when tickets for the show’s Minneapolis run (Feb. 5-17 at the Orpheum Theatre) went on sale, and the sale of every single available ticket was virtually a given.

“Once in a decade,” says Evans, “you might get something like this, a show that breaks boundaries. ‘Rent’ was an example; it was considered racy in its day, and became incredibly successful.”

It’s safe to say that “The Book of Mormon” is also considered “racy”—for its day, or any day. The heroes are Mormon missionaries whose faith is portrayed as farcical. (Real-life Mormon scholars have felt moved to clarify, for example, that they don’t actually believe God lives on a planet named Kolob.) The villain is a general with an unprintable name and an abiding, much-discussed fear of clitorises. One missionary finds his dreams haunted by Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer and dancing coffee cups.

Evans, who joined the touring production in late 2012 in the leading role of Elder Price, says people know what they’re getting into. “I think when you see ‘South Park’ on the marquee, people know it’s going to be controversial. It mocks everything, but actually, when you read the script, there isn’t one thing in there that isn’t based on truth.”

The musical had its genesis in 2003, when Parker and Stone met Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, creators of the irreverent hit musical “Avenue Q.” They realized that they’d all considered writing something about Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism.

Over the next several years, Parker, Stone and Lopez (Marx ultimately left the project due to creative differences) developed the ideas that became “The Book of Mormon,” which debuted on Broadway in 2011 and became an immediate sensation, winning nine Tonys including Best Musical. The New York Times called it “the best musical of the century.”

Even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself has been relatively good-humored about the show, buying program ads to promote the actual Book of Mormon (“the book is always better”). “The show’s message is actually touching,” says Evans. “It’s not just comedy for comedy’s sake — the main goal [of the show’s creators] is to tell a great story.”

Parker, Stone and Lopez have been closely involved in the development of the touring production, says Evans, who was offered his role after auditioning for a London production that opens next month. “They came over and saw the final [U.K.] auditions, then were part of the rehearsal process here. Their attention to detail is incredible. I don’t think they’ll ever let this show go on autopilot — they’ve got too much pride in it, they’re too grateful for this opportunity.”

Evans, who hails from Wrexham, Wales — and like Ricky Rubio, tweets bilingually — says it’s tough to be cut off from his “support system” of his family and friends back home, but the touring company members have been very supportive, even if he doesn’t always understand what they’re saying. “We’ll have conversations, and they’ll use American words or phrases I’ve never heard,” he says. “So I’m being educated.”