Lessons from Elder Cunningham of The Book of Mormon According To Cody Jamison Strand

THE BOOK OF MORMON PARAMOUNT THEATRE July 22-August 10 The Book of Mormon is perhaps one of the highest grossing, newer shows on Broadway. By the creators of ‘South Park,’ The Book of Mormon took Broadway by storm with its irreverent view of the Mormon faith and the two missionary boys that go to Africa to spread the word.Eric Andrews-Katz caught up with Cody Jamison Strand, a man with a contagious, hyena-like laugh and self-proclaimed actor and chef who stars in The Book of Mormon.

The Book Of Mormon offends everyone, have fun!

Eric Andrews-Katz (AK): Who were your earliest influences as a performer?
Cody Jamison Strand (CS): I remember looking back and seeing ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ with Mickey Rooney. He was hysterical! His performance was the funniest thing I’d ever seen [as a kid]. I remember being at my Grandma’s house and my father putting it in, and watching it. Growing up I’d have to say it was a lot of Jack Black and Chris Farley was another big one.

AK: What was your first professional performance?
CS: If we were including summer stock, I’d have to say my first performance (as a paid actor) was Man of La Mancha. I was one of the Muleteers. I was the Little Barber.

AK: You bill yourself as a Top Chef. Do you have professional or personal training and what is your favorite thing to bake?
CS: (exhibiting the infamous laugh) My apple pie is out of this world. It’s an Apple Cream Cheese Pie to be exact, and it’s wonderful – even if I have to toot my own horn as an amateur. Literally, I don’t know why I have it up there. Everyone now talks to me about being a chef.

AK: You’ve performed in dramas, Shakespeare and musicals. Do you have a preference of which you prefer and why?
CS: I don’t think I prefer one or the other as long as it is a good show. I love Shakespeare, the challenge of it, and I think he’s also really funny! The clown roles are always the most fun. There’s a different aspect to each part of it all, though. Musicals are where I am working now, and it’s special to me because it is truly the most American form of entertainment we have. It’s also fun to do! I’ll do anything [performance wise]. I don’t care what I’m doing as long as I have a job!

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Cody Jamison Strand ( photo by Joan Marcus, 2014)

AK: You started to do The Book of Mormon tour after performing Elder Cunningham on Broadway. What is it about the role that draws you to it?
CS: When I first saw the show on Broadway it was my senior year of college. I saw the Original Broadway Cast with Josh Gad performing the role. I look like him. I knew I could sing like him, and I knew I could do that role. It was the funniest thing I’d seen on Broadway. I just really worked towards that goal and eventually got it. I moved to New York and had an agent I was freelancing with for work. This was my first theatrical audition in New York City. I went in and had no idea what I was doing. I was so nervous; but I kept on getting call backs. I couldn’t tell you what happened in that audition room, I was so scared. They must have liked it because I got the job.

AK: If it were The Book of Torah, or The Book of Christians, the world would be up in arms about the show. Why do you think it gets accepted when it’s about the Mormon faith?
CS: That’s funny. It’s not about Mormons [per se], but about so much more than that. It uses Mormonism as a platform to talk about everything. It doesn’t depict Mormons in a bad light. It’s more of a celebration of faith than a rip on it.

AK: You come from a religious family with a father that’s a pastor. How did your family react to the irreverent storyline?
CS: My mother loves it. I showed it to her first and said I was auditioning for it. I suggested that she listen to the music on iTunes. After she did, she said, ‘We’ll just ease your father into it.’ My dad didn’t know about some of the moments in the show until he saw it. The first time there were a couple of songs, and I told him that every song was there for a reason. Now he sees it every chance he gets. He’s a convert and a true fan.

AK: In The Book of Mormon, Elder Cunningham has trouble with an African girl’s name. Are the alternative names scripted or do you get free range in making them up?
CS: It’s a little bit of both honestly. Most of the time I’d make it up. Some of them (he laughs wildly) I’ve come up with and some I’ve taken from other actors doing the role. For Nabulungi (the character’s real name) I’ve called her: NaBabushka, Nacho del Grande (stole that one), Nosferatu (stolen), and on occasion Nostradamus. Any weird name that sound like it and comes to mind.

AK: When performing in heavily Mormon populated areas, has the show ever gotten any guff?
CS: Honestly, we were in Rochester and Las Vegas – both pretty big with Mormon faith population. So far we haven’t gotten anything. People love it. The Mormon’s take out advertisements in the Playbill.

AK: If you could play any role – regardless of any limitation – what would it be and why?
CS: Most people ask what my dream role is and I say ‘Sancho Panza’ [Man of La Mancha] because I can play that role. But if I could do any role it’d be Richard III in the Shakespeare play. Why? Because it’s genius, that’s why. Because it is one of the most brilliantly written and complex roles out there. I’ll probably never get the offer, but I’d love to sink my teeth into it.

The Book of Mormon (written by Robert Lopez, Matt Stone, and Trey Parker) first opened on Broadway on February 24, 2011, where it is still currently playing to sell out houses. Nominated for 16 Tony Awards, the musical won 11 including 2011’s Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book and Best Featured Actress (Nikki M. James). The Book of Mormon continues to break box-office records wherever it travels.

Eric Andrews-Katz has contributed to several anthologies and is the author of the Agent Buck 98 series. His work can be found at: www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

We love Cody Jamison Strand!

 

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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