When Luke Monday was cast as the understudy for the lead role in “The Book of Mormon,” he didn’t have to look far for inspiration. He grew up in Logan, and knew young men like Elder Price.
“There’s definitely this sense of all those guys that that were, like, student body presidents or football captains — they were going to go on to be missionaries and they were going to be excellent and they were going to spread the word,” Monday said. “That’s what Elder Price is all about. He’s the embodiment of all of that.”
Monday was raised Catholic — but you can’t grow up in Logan and not be acquainted with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “It’s definitely all around you there,” he said.
The sweet/raunchy show, by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, debuted on Broadway in 2011, telling the story of pair of LDS missionaries sent to Uganda and overwhelmed by what they face. It was nominated for 14 Tonys that year, winning nine — including best musical.
Monday’s parents are transplants from Alabama and Arkansas; they moved to Logan when they got jobs as music teachers in the public schools.
“I’ve played violin since I was 9. And I would sing, but never in front of people,” Monday said. His parents encouraged him to join a children’s choir, “but I was too shy. I grew out of it, for sure,” he said with a laugh.
That didn’t happen until his senior year at Logan High School. “I had a really wonderful theater teacher (Mitzi Mecham, who just retired this past spring), and she encouraged me to audition for the musical and audition for choir and for the play. I did all of it, and that was my first time really dabbling in theater.”
He went to Weber State University on a violin scholarship because he didn’t get a scholarship to the university’s theater program.
“My audition wasn’t great,” Monday said, but he did start taking theater classes. “And then I committed to the musical theater thing right away. It’s a great program.”
After graduating from Weber State, his first professional job was a role in a production of “Hair” in Park City, and he’s made a career of it since 2010 — performing in regional productions of “Billy Elliott,” “Rent,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Carousel,” among others; performing at Disneyland; and in the national touring company of “Mamma Mia.”
Last year in San Diego, where he now makes his home, he acted, sang, danced and played the violin in a production of “Once.” And just last month, he debuted a solo musical, “Callback Queen,” in San Diego, based in part on some advice he got from since-retired Weber musical theater director Jim Christian.
Christian warned him that an actor has “to learn to love auditioning, or at least like it,” Monday said. “He said, ‘Some people tell me they hate auditioning, and that’s something you have to get over because that is your life as a performer. You’re auditioning way more than you are actually getting a job.’”
“Book of Mormon” is not just another musical, as far as Monday is concerned. “It’s probably the most comedic show I’ve ever done. The amount of laughs we get — it’s just consistently funny, no matter where where we go,” he said.
“And in Salt Lake City, I think it’s going to be even more heightened. The people in Salt Lake City are going to identify with a lot of the humor.”
The opening scenes take place in Utah. There’s an entire song “Sal Tlay Ka Siti" (Salt Lake City), a “perfect, happy place” with “waterfalls and unicorns flying, where there was no suffering, no pain.” And, of course, there are umpteen references to the Book of Mormon and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When Elder Price sings that he believes “that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America” and that God’s plan “involves me getting my own planet,” audiences in other cities laughed — but maybe not for the same reasons audiences in Utah will laugh.
“It’s going to be even funnier to them because they’ll know full well that it’s real,” Monday said.
He’s paying his dues as the understudy, but points out that “every guy who’s ever gone on to play Price full time has had to stand by for however long. The current Price (Liam Tobin) was on standby for a year. ... So it’s just a matter of being patient and doing good work” for “this machine that is showing no signs of stopping.”
The musical “is optimistic. It’s high energy, and it’s fun to play,” Monday said. “An audience really responds to it. They love it. They love the perky Mormons. The scenes with the Mormon boys are so, so funny.”
“THE BOOK OF MORMON”
When • Aug. 13-25
Where • Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St.
Tickets • $35-$195 at artix.artsaltlake.org, at the box office, or by calling 801-355-2787
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the actor currently playing Elder Price.