A religious experience: Lead actor Nic Rouleau happy in 'Mormon' Chicago stage role converting audiences into fans

2013-03-01T00:00:00Z 2013-03-12T14:08:13Z A religious experience: Lead actor Nic Rouleau happy in 'Mormon' Chicago stage role converting audiences into fansBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Actor Nic Rouleau can't help but to smile about his lead role as Elder Price in the Broadway hit comedy musical "The Book of Mormon," the biggest smash stage sensation in recent Chicago theater history.

He's especially fond of the "cartoon ringing" sound effect heard, every time his character flashes his perfect wide trademark smile.

It helps that the New York City-based actor's father, Dr. Bert Rouleau, is an orthodontist back home in Mountain View, Calif.

"I really felt like I was a fit for this character," said Rouleau, taking a break last month from his 8-eight show a week schedule to talk about his new temporary home in the Windy City.

He's now an expert on the massive appeal and buzz generated by "The Book of Mormon," which is now extended until September at Bank of America Theatre and stars the book, music and lyrics of "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, teamed with Robert Lopez of "Avenue Q" fame.

Sipping tea at a Starbucks in Chicago for the interview (yes, unlike Mormons, he can have caffeine),  Rouleau admits some of his inspiration for his characterization on stage, though still a homage to the role created on Broadway, is also how he "feeds off" his star counterpart. For this Chicago run, Elder Cunningham is played by Ben Platt, who has earned equal critical praise.

"For this second national tour cast, Ben and his interpretation of the Elder Cunningham role is a little different than how it originated on Broadway," said Rouleau, who is direct from the Broadway company.

"That gives me a chance to also play to those differences and bring out new qualities that I think work. The creators were great. As soon as we started our rehearsals last year in New York for this production, they allowed us to bring some of our own custom qualities to these characters."

Also featured in the Chicago production leads are Syesha Mercado as female love interest Nabulungi, Pierce Cassedy as rigid Elder McKinley and Chicago actor James Vincent Meredith as the African community leader Mafala Hatimbi.

The multi Tony Award winning "The Book of Mormon" is about two hapless Mormon missions who find themselves facing the most difficult "convert and soul-save" assignment possible, when they are sent to an impoverished African village.

Rouleau, who previously played Woody, the cowboy from "Toy Story," for Disney Cruise Line, said he continues to be amazed at how hard the entire cast and crew work together to give "The Book of Mormon" precision, from comedy timing to musical number choreography, which has allowed it to earn high accolades.

"The big opening number 'Hello,' with all the ringing of doorbells, is one of the numbers that we really had to keep rehearsing over and over to get it to the perfect timing the producers expected," he said.

"It was tough. But when you see it now, it's easy to see how it pays off."

As for a favorite face he's met so far while playing the Chicago run, he said was very excited when film and television actress Joan Cusack stopped backstage, especially considering Cusack voiced Jesse the Cowgirl, the love interest of Woody in "Toy Story."

Rouleau said he was never uneasy about any of the "push the envelop" content or graphic comedy themes used in "The Book of Mormon," with the exception of him being "a bit cautious" when his best friend, who is Mormon, decided to come and see the play.

"She wasn't angry or upset by the content, although, of course, she didn't like the bad language that is included in some scenes," he said.

"So knowing she was supportive of me and thought I did a great job, was the best glowing review I could get."

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