The Book of Mormon is returning to Chicago on a mission to convert new followers into the musical fold. The masterminds behind the satirical cartoon series South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker created a smash hit that eventually took home nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The story follows two missionaries exploring the world, all the way to Uganda, on a quest to find new believers.
Performer Sam Nackman plays Elder Cunningham, the main protagonist and follower of Elder Price. Nackman's a New York native with movie and television credits to accompany his musical theater background. He took a break to speak about his role in The Book of Mormon.
Windy City Times: Hello, Sam. Where in the world is the tour right now?
Sam Nackman: Right now we are in London, Ontario in the Great White North.
WCT: Reminds me of South Park's "Blame Canada!" Do you love it there?
SN: I love Canada. It is a beautiful country and I have family that lives here. The people are nice and I love Tim Hortons.
WCT: What are your pronouns?
SN: I go by he/him. I am pansexual. I just like people and I have a partner.
WCT: Where are you from originally?
SN: I am from Long Island, New York. I started performing in theater productions after sports didn't seem to stick. I went to college at Marymount Manhattan College for musical theater.
WCT: Do you have a favorite musical?
SN: Yes, Fiddler on the Roof. It is a big one for me and hits close to home because I am Jewish. It balances being proud of my culture and tradition versus progress in society. That was always an important thing to me. There are a million reasons that I think Fiddler on the Roof is such a perfect show.
WCT: It is another show with a religious aspect to it, like The Book of Mormon.
SN: Absolutely. Since the first time I saw this musical, I have loved it. The more time I have spent with it, both as a fan and a cast member, I have only grown to understand The Book of Mormon a bit more. On the surface, it can be a silly show that pokes fun at religion and some people. It is so much more than that. It is a very faith-forward show.
The lyrics in the final song "Tomorrow Is a Latter Day" are, "What happens when we're dead? We shouldn't think that far ahead." The song says the only "Latter Day" that matters is tomorrow…which is the very next day in the life that we are currently living. That is a Jewish ideal.
One of the creators of South Park and The Book of Mormon Matt Stone is Jewish. I also think it has a human-forward ideal of lifting each other up.
WCT: Describe your journey to join the cast of The Book of Mormon.
SN: I started auditioning for the role of Elder Cunningham in college on a whim. It was not an open call but my friend suggested I show up. They saw me but I didn't get the part. When the next round of auditions came around, they knew me, so it all worked out.
WCT: Talk about your character Elder Cunningham.
SN: Arnold Cunningham is a lovable goofball, but doesn't have the best social skills. He always tries to do his best for those around him and has good intentions. He is sweet and caring, even if he is sometimes less than thoughtful.
His nature leads him to get into sticky situations. He has a very active imagination which can send him in less-than-stellar directions, but he always keeps a smile on his face.
WCT: He's like a puppy to me.
SN: Absolutely, he's just like a little puppy dog. I say it many times in the show that he's a follower and that is exactly what he does.
WCT: I didn't know his first name was Arnold. That reminds me of the television show Happy Days with the Cunningham family and Arnold's Restaurant. I wonder if that is a possible inspiration.
SN: That is interesting. I hadn't thought of that!
WCT: Had you seen your character portrayed before?
SN: Yes, I had seen The Book of Mormon a couple of times and both times it was with the current Broadway cast member Cody Jamison Strand. He is fantastic.
There are some slight differences between the touring version compared to Broadway. It does allow some characters more agency and as actors, we can put our own flare and ideas into the character. Overall, it is still the same show and is truly great.
WCT: Do you have a favorite song from Mormon?
SN: It is one that I am not even involved in called "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream." It's a crazy number and even after watching it a few times, there are still new, hilarious things to be found both in the music and onstage.
WCT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints voiced support for same-sex marriage in 2022. I was both impressed and surprised when I heard that.
SN: I was too. We touch on the subject of the Mormon opinion of the LGBTQ+ community in the show. The script was written from an earlier version of the church's feelings, but it is still in line with it. It is a "don't ask, don't tell, don't show and nobody knows" stance.
WCT: Are you a fan of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars similar to your character?
SN: Oh yeah. I am like my character just with better social graces. I am a fan of anything nerdy in pop culture. I like Star Trek and Marvel superheroes too. I have a wall of action figures in my apartment, which my partner very graciously allows me to keep there.
WCT: How long is The Book of Mormon tour?
SN: The website has tickets available until the end of March currently and we are going at least through July. It has already been announced that it will go beyond that.
WCT: The show must resonate in other countries because it has traveled all over the world in the past.
SN: It is a unique story with a universal theme. The Mormons go to other countries in the plot so it plays well with everyone no matter where they live.
WCT: Talk about being on Prime's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
SN: I have a small bit part with five lines in the upcoming final season of the show. It hasn't premiered yet, but look for me in the diner.
WCT: How did it feel wearing classic costumes for Mrs. Maisel?
SN: It was so fun to try on all the vintage costumes. I had on socks that had never been worn that were from the time period. The socks were made before they had elastic in them, so I needed suspenders to hold them up.
WCT: Would you ever go up to a stranger's house and ring a doorbell?
SN: If it is October 31 and they are giving me candy, then yes!
The Book of Mormon preaches with a choir beginning March 28 then runs through April 6, 2023 at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph Street. Pray on finding a ticket at BroadwayInChicago.com .