Two naive Mormon missionaries — one a bumbling misfit and the other relentlessly self-important — wind up in war-torn Uganda on an ill-fated mission to convert souls in the Broadway hit musical “The Book of Mormon.”
Taking on the roles of Elder Cummingham and Elder Price in the touring production that opens in Tampa Tuesday are Christopher John O'Neill and Mark Evans.
The musical comedy that won nine Tony Awards runs through Nov. 24 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
Both actors say that although the play is profane and hilarious, audience members are sometimes surprised that it has heart and doesn't bash the Mormon religion.
Those who come expecting a raunchy satire from the creators of “South Park” and “Avenue Q” aren't disappointed.
“South Park” writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”) mock all religious zealots in this splashy over-the-top comedy.
“But people who come expecting us to beat up on the Mormon religion will find that we don't do that,” says O'Neill. “It's about finding yourself and ultimately being a good person.”
“I've had people tell me they were surprised at how touching some scenes are,” says Evans. “And the Mormons are actually using us as a recruiting tool. They take out ads in the programs and they come to the theater. They get all the inside jokes, even those that go over other people's heads.”
Evans says the Mormon characters in the play are endearing. “I had one young woman tell me she converted to Mormonism after hearing the soundtrack,” he said. “I think that's extreme; but these characters are likable.”
Evans, a Welsh actor, singer and dancer with a long list of credits in Great Britain, is making his U.S. debut and getting a kick out of traveling the country. O'Neill is an improv comedy performer who had no professional theater experience before getting the role.
Evans says playing a character who almost never stops smiling is a challenge. He does “smile exercises” before each performance because his character is so super positive. His goal is to give Elder Price the kind of smile a kid has on that first visit to Disneyland.
O'Neill says his character is a “Star Wars” geek who tends to get confused about the Mormon beliefs when he panics.
“He's a nice guy who means well but he goofs up,” says O'Neill.
'THE BOOK OF MORMON'
When: Nov. 12 through Nov. 24
Where: Straz Center, 1010 MacInnes Place, Tampa
Tickets: $69 to $153.50; (813) 229-7827 and www.strazcenter.org