When Nic Rouleau first heard of “The Book of Mormon” in 2009, he was a student at New York University. The show, about a couple of mismatched missionaries sent to poverty-stricken Uganda, was still in workshop.
Two years later, the smash-hit adult musical opened to rave reviews and won nine Tonys. Rouleau heard they needed a standby for the role of perky perfectionist Elder Price — a role that earned Omaha native Andrew Rannells a lead-actor Tony nomination. Rouleau auditioned in June 2011 and snagged an Equity card as a professional actor when he got the standby job. He was 24.
Two years later, having understudied Rannells for a year and then played the role himself on Broadway from July to December 2012, Rouleau arrives in Omaha this weekend to play Elder Price in Rannells' hometown. The show runs Saturday through Oct. 20 at the Orpheum.
Rouleau calls Rannells a mentor.
“Andrew was honestly the most fantastic person to work under,” he said from Chicago, where the show played for weeks before coming here. “Watching him do the role was a great learning experience — the voice stamina alone!”
Rannells, he said, has vocal cords of steel. Rouleau spent two months in a dressing room backstage, listening to Rannells' high tenor voice over a stage monitor during each performance and singing along, doing it over and over till he got it just right.
The trickiest part about playing Elder Price, Rouleau said, is that he's a jerk. Rouleau, like Rannells before him, had to find a way to play cocky while also being lovable.
“You have to have the audience rooting for him, even when he's not the most polite,” he said.
After 13 years of Catholic school, Rouleau said, he had no trouble with the wholesome-appearance aspect of the role. The challenge was Price's enormous self-confidence. “Andrew has more natural confidence. He's the nicest guy, yet sure of himself. I learned a lot of that from him.”
In Chicago, Rouleau started from scratch with co-directors Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw, making the role more his own and no longer a copy of Rannells' interpretation.
“They were very harsh and tough, telling me to do something different from Andrew. Each actor and each cast has different energies.”
The key, he said, is in trusting the writing. No need to be cartoonish or insincere to trigger laughs. Just play the material straight, and the laughs are there. A rehearsal in which he spent an entire hour working with the show's co-creator, Robert Lopez, on a single character-defining bit of lyric stands out in Rouleau's memory: “The most important time of a Mormon's life is his mission. ... I know my mission will be something incredible!”
Though the show is filled with profanities, Rouleau said it surprises people with its pro-faith message.
“People think it will dis organized religion and God, but it's all about faith and believing. The message is that as long as you believe in something and hold onto it, that's all that matters. It's made me more of a believer and affirmed my belief in a higher power.”
Out of context, he said, the show's humor might be offensive. But within the story, the obscenity-laced outbursts are all earned, not just thrown in. Plus, he said, the show's authors (“Avenue Q's” Lopez and “South Park's” Parker and Matt Stone) are known for making fun of absolutely everything.
“The Book of Mormon,” Rouleau said, is the perfect combination of humor and heart. And Elder Price is “every young white boy's dream role right now.”
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The Book of Mormon
What: Broadway touring adult musical
Where: Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St.
When: Saturday-Oct. 20. Showtimes: 8 p.m. Saturday; 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Oct. 17; 8 p.m. Oct. 18; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 19; 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 20.
Tickets: $40 to $160
Information: 402-345-0606, toll-free 866-434-8587, ticketomaha.com or in person at the Holland Center box office, 13th and Douglas Streets
A pre-show lottery will be held daily for a limited number of $25 tickets to “The Book of Mormon.” Here's how it works:
Bring cash only. Two and a half hours before the performance you wish to see, arrive at the Orpheum Theater lobby and fill out an entry form for tickets (limit two tickets per entry, limit one entry per person).
Two hours before curtain, the winners will be drawn. You must be present when your name is drawn and show valid ID to buy the tickets with cash.
Lottery tickets are subject to availability but are planned for each of the 11 performances.