The Star of Book of Mormon's Third Tour Was Forbidden to Watch South Park as a Kid
Gabe Gibbs (center) plays earnest missionary Elder Price, who is sent to Uganda instead of Orlando, to his grave disappointment.
The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of the Latter-day Saints movement, which adherents believe contains writings of ancient prophets and was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is a religious satire musical that pokes fun at the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and includes a song "Hasa Diga Eebowai," which translates to “Fuck you, God.”
The irreverent book, lyrics and music were written by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Paker and Stone, best known for creating the animated comedy series South Park, co-created the music with Lopez, the co-composer/co-lyricist of Avenue Q, and later, Frozen.
The musical racked up nine Tony Awards when it premiered in 2011. The original Broadway cast recording became the highest-charting Broadway cast album in over four decades, reaching number three on the Billboard charts.
Now the hit musical comes to Dallas once more as part of its third national tour. Gabe Gibbs plays one of two main characters: Elder Price, the earnest, handsome missionary, who hopes to be sent to Orlando, Florida, but is instead sent to Uganda with a loose canon sidekick, Elder Cunningham.
In the original Broadway production, Price and Cunningham were played by Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad, respectively. Price believes he is meant to do something special with his life and quickly becomes frustrated with the Ugandan villagers.
In real life, Gibbs is much like his character — earnest and enthusiastic. He landed the job fresh out of college upon moving to Los Angeles. He was an understudy for the role on Broadway before launching out on tour, and says the experience gave him lots of time to learn the character and figure out how to make it his own.
Gibbs is a classically trained actor out of Emerson College. He credits his “well-rounded” liberal arts education with giving him more than just acting tools and dreams of an opportunity to play his Shakespearean favorite, Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing. He says his musical theater training actual lends itself really well to Shakespeare.
“My agent might not like that idea, but I’d love it,” he says. “The language is so grandiose; it works like a musical. I think that’s why musical actors are often great when they take on Shakespeare.”
Gibbs grew up idolizing physical comedians like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams. He says he was drawn to them because they looked enough like the part of a leading man, but were able to surprise with their comedic skills. His idol is Steve Carrell, and he says his favorite movie is Crazy, Stupid, Love, starring Carrell and Ryan Gosling.
“My dream is to be in a romantic comedy and just do those for like 10 years.”
Gibbs grew up in a religious household, learning gospel music at a young age, and he wasn’t allowed to watch South Park.
“It was definitely a show I had to turn off if I saw my parents coming!”
His parents love seeing Book of Mormon, he says. “It’s such a smart show. There are conversations we have after they’ve seen it once, twice or 10 times. They really like it, though I think they were mostly excited the first time because I got to be in it.”
The challenge with national tours of big musicals can be keeping the roles fresh. Gibbs says his counterpart, played by Cody Jamison Strand, helps keep it entertaining.
“He’s brilliant. Even when we make mistakes, it’s fun.”
Gibbs has been surprised by how much the show changes depending on what city they’re in. One of his favorite moments was a performance in Salt Lake City. Gibbs says the cast was nervous about playing to the actual Mormon motherland.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was like a rock concert,” he says. “The subject is so specific to that town, but they knew all of the specifics in the show and just went nuts. It honestly felt historic. Every city is different. It will be a different show in Dallas, too. I’m always interested to see how different cities react to the play.”
See The Book of Mormon Dec. 20 through 31 at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Tickets are $55 to $215 at attpac.org.
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