The Book of Mormon, the Mormon buddy-comedy musical written by the creators of South Park and a Frozen songwriter, is the story of two bright-eyed young missionaries who find themselves sent not to their dream mission destination (Orlando), but rather to a rural Ugandan village at the mercy of nature, disease and a local warlord.
Even nearly a decade after it debuted, that those words in that order have produced one of the biggest moneymakers in Broadway history remains nothing short of miraculous, especially given the way-past-edgy nature of the comedy.
To Jordan Matthew Brown, who plays Elder Cunningham in the national touring version of the show that will be at the Academy of Music from May 28 to June 9, it makes perfect sense, raunchiness and offensiveness included.
“It is all those things!” he said. “But not without a purpose.”
Brown grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, and knew from a young age that acting was all there was for him. When he visits his family home, the semiregular viewings of home videos show him and his sister performing for friends and family before they could read all that well; Brown was “obsessed” with The Wizard of Oz back then, and would often play every single role aside from Dorothy, the task he graciously set aside for his sister. In one memorable moment, he recalled, his father, operating the camera, asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. “I want to do plays,” Brown said, having not yet learned the word “actor.”
He was, by his estimation, in a good place to pursue that. Though he is aware of certain “misconceptions” about Cleveland, in his words, he found an “amazing” arts community.
“I loved growing up there,” he said.
He was surrounded by theaters, and perhaps none of them helped to develop him as an actor more than the Playmakers Theatre at the Beachwood Mandel JCC. “That was an amazing place that I didn’t really discover until the end of middle school,” said Brown. During his time there, he grew close with the long-time director, Sheri Gross, who remains “one of the most incredible mentors I’ve ever had,” he added.
Besides helping to develop him as an actor, the JCC also showed Brown the parallels in community development that existed between the Jewish world and the theater world. Working at the JCC’s summer theater camp, he forged friendships that remain strong to this day. His social life in New York, where he lives now, is often populated with people he met in those days, not to mention the friends he made at French Woods, the popular theater camp.
Brown attended Boston University as an undergraduate, and earned his BFA there as well. It was just before his graduation that he learned he’d gotten the role of the standby for Elder Cunningham for the Broadway production. He’d previously been the standby for that role on the national tour as well.
By any metric, Brown “made it,” booking a national tour, but he remains humble. Asked if there was a point when he felt that way, he laughed and said, “I don’t know if there’s ever a point.”
For now, the self-described theater nerd is ecstatic to be a part of one of his favorite shows (in no particular order: Sunday in the Park with George, Fiddler on the Roof and “any Sondheim”). The first time he ever saw the show was on an earlier iteration of the national tour on its swing through Cleveland; his friends told him he “had to see it,” he said, and after he obliged, he couldn’t have agreed more.
To be in this role now?
“This is a dream,” he said. “To learn how to step on that roller coaster when the show starts and to ride it through the end and all the different things that happen has been a really awesome experience.”