Behind the Book

    The Tony Award-winning musical The Book of Mormon lands at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach December 16-21. Developed by South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon follows two young Mormons, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, as they go on a missionary trip to Uganda. Their naive assumptions are quickly shattered when they come face-to-face with the country’s turmoil. The missionaries meet village chief Mafala Hatimbi and his daughter, Nabulungi, and continue in their efforts to spread the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—with hilarious results. caught up with Florida native Denèe Benton, who plays Nabulungi in the national touring cast. Below, Benton dishes on her love of musical theater and pre-show rituals.

Denèe Benton, The Book of Mormon National Tour, photo by Joan Marcus What was your impression of The Book of Mormon prior to being cast?

Benton: Oh my gosh, I was absolutely in love with it. I was a musical theater nerd in high school, so I already had the original cast recording completely memorized before I even got to see the show for the first time. So, I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

How would you describe the musical style of the show?

They basically pay homage to many different musicals. [You have] your traditional, big, jazzy musical theater with some tap numbers and you’ve also got some great pop-rock—it kind of gives you the best of everything.

How would you describe your character, Nabulungi?

She’s one of the big hearts of the show. She’s like the wide-eyed young Ugandan girl in the village who wants everything the missionaries are saying to be true because she thinks it will be her village’s ticket out of the trauma and danger they experience on a day-to-day basis. She’s definitely the innocent of the show. Between her and Elder Cunningham, they bring it back down to some reality.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?

It’s kind of a marathon, eight shows a week. It’s a lot of stamina to build. So, by the second show on Sunday night, making sure you’re still giving the best performance you can give and staying disciplined and making sure you’re staying warm and everything—that’s been the biggest muscle for me to try to build up.

Do you have any pre-show rituals or warm ups?

I do vocal warm ups every night before the show, which come from my voice teachers in the past. I have to stretch it out, and then costume and makeup and a cup of tea, and I’m usually ready to go.

Denèe Benton and Cody Jamison Strand as Elder Cunningham, The Book of Mormon National Tour, photo by Joan Marcus

What’s your favorite number to perform?

Probably “Baptize Me.” It is a duet I get to sing with Elder Cunningham, and it’s so much fun and so clever and witty and full of double entendres, but it’s also so sweet and innocent. I have a great time every night because I get to play off of my cast mate, who just gives me something different every night to work with and makes it so much fun.

What’s your favorite number in the show?

I will have to say “Turn it Off,” which is the big number the Mormon boys who are in charge of the Ugandan mission do when Elder Price and Elder Cunningham explain how they deal with all the turmoil and terrors in life. It really never gets old; I find something new to laugh at every night.

Why do you think the show has been so popular with audiences?

It’s just not like anything that has ever dared to be written or produced before. [And] the humor is so cutting edge and hysterical and makes your jaw drop, but it also has so much heart at the same time. If you don’t think you’re a musical theater person, I would challenge you to see this show because it has converted many.

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