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'The Book of Mormon' brings its musical mission to West Palm Beach and Miami

Kevin Clay is so new to the touring production of “The Book of Mormon” there are no production photos of him in his role onstage (or of the rest of the newly minted cast, for that matter).

So it’s a little tricky illustrating the road tour’s two stops this month in South Florida: Nov. 21-26 in West Palm Beach and Nov. 28-Dec. 3 in Miami. But that’s to be expected, since Clay, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, only made his debut in the lead role of Elder Price at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Oct. 24, two weeks before he chatted with us in a telephone interview.

“It’s been very nice,” Clay says. “It all came around full circle. It’s very serendipitous that it would be in my hometown. Lots of family and friends came to see it.”

This will not be the first time he performs in the show in South Florida. When “The Book of Mormon” played Fort Lauderdale in January 2016, Clay was in the ensemble.

“It happened pretty quickly. I graduated in May of 2015 [from Penn State, where he got a MFA],” Clay recalls. “A month later, I found out I had been hired for the ensemble of ‘Book of Mormon.’ What Penn State does is they have a showcase at the end of the four-year program. Some of the casting people from ‘Book of Mormon’ caught our showcase. I sang this Burt Bacharach song, ‘She Likes Basketball’ from [the musical] ‘Promises, Promises.’ I guess something about my audition shined through. The next thing I knew, I was in the national tour. I slipped through the cracks.”

The winner of nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, “The Book of Mormon” follows two Mormon missionaries and their misadventures while trying to spread their faith to a village in war-torn and impoverished Uganda. One has a crisis of faith, and the other refashions the liturgy with dashes of pop culture to win over converts. The profane and satiric musical comedy came from the minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of the four-time Emmy Award-winning animated series "South Park," as well as Tony Award-winning composer Robert Lopez, of the musical-comedy "Avenue Q.” The show was staged by Tony-winning director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, of "Aladdin" and "Spamalot" fame.

Here is more about Clay and how he worked his way up through the ranks of “The Book of Mormon.”

When did you first start in the ensemble?

I first began on Oct. 26. I believe it was Scranton, Pa. I rehearsed for two weeks, and then I think I first opened in Providence Rhode Island on Nov. 15 of 2015.

What was it like a year later doing the lead role, and at Kennedy Center, no less? You must have been nervous.

The very first night of officially having the role, I was really nervous. I had done the performance and the role of Elder Price. But there was something about the pressure of opening at the Kennedy Center. Friends, family, directors, producers were all in town. The third or fourth night, I was OK and began to feel comfortable again in the show. I said, “I can breathe again.”

I’m not going to ask you, “What is your favorite part of the show,” because that is trite. But what part gets to you every night, even now?

I honestly love doing “You and Me (But Mostly Me).” It’s the third big number of the show. It’s Elder Price’s first chance to really show the audience who he really is, in some good ways and in some bad ways. It’s fun to get out there and be super energetic and over-the-top right out of the gate.

What is something you could point out to audiences in West Palm Beach and Miami about the performance that they might not know?

I would tell them to try and put as much focus as they can into each of the ensemble numbers. Most of the time, you focus on whoever is currently talking or who the lead is. But, especially having been in the ensemble, I can tell you that some of the Mormons and the Ugandan villagers … they are all doing very subtle but hilarious things behind the principal characters. I also want to tell the audience members to look very closely at Elder Price’s and Elder Cunningham’s mothers. That’s sort of a fun Easter egg.

The musical bowed on Broadway in 2011. Is it still relevant? Does it still work in a world that has changed a lot over a very short time?

I think aside from the comedy and the shock value, the show really does have a big heart. And it has one of the best messages I think, especially right now, in musical theater. The message is: Faith can be one of the most powerful forces in a person’s life in whatever form you want it to take.

You’ve basically been on the road since you graduated from college. You’re 24 years old (and will be 25 next month). How has it been touring nonstop for almost four years?

It’s been great .A lot of people ask me about this, and I always answer, “This is exactly the time when I would want to be doing this, right out of school.” I never got an apartment, never got a stable place to sit down. I’m not missing anything. I’m not longing for a home in New York City. It’s fun being young and … living out of a suitcase, living out of hotels. I can’t think of a better time to do this.

What advice would you give to survive that?

I would recommend routines. When I get to a new town, I really try to find go-to places. I wake up every morning around 9:30, shower, and go around the corner to a bakery restaurant, order tea, read a book, then go to the gym. I rest a little bit, meet some friends for dinner and then rest a bit and then go to the show. That brings me a comforting feeling. Maybe by the end of the week, one of the employees might recognize me because I’ve been coming in all week. I like that. It makes me feel centered.

“The Book of Mormon” runs Nov. 21-26 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday; with 2 p.m. matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $35-$95. To order, call 561-832-7469 or go to Kravis.org.

The show also will appear Nov. 28-Dec. 3 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., in Miami. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. matinee Saturday; and 1 p.m. matinee Sunday. Tickets cost $35-$155. To order, call 305-949-6722 or go to ArshtCenter.org.

For the Arsht Center run, a $25 ticket lottery will be held 2 1/2 hours prior to each performance. Entries will be accepted at the Arsht Center box office, where each person on a provided card will print their name and whether they want to purchase one or two tickets. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of tickets. Only one entry is allowed per person. Cards are checked for duplication prior to drawing. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets. Tickets are subject to availability.

rhagwood@southflorida.com

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