By Harley Ann Kulp
Who hasn’t heard of Book of Mormon? It won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Musical (and eight other Tony’s) and it truly deserved it! Book of Mormon is a hilarious musical with the most clever – and inappropriate – lyrics possibly ever written. Though that’s some of the charms. Not only is it on Broadway, but there are two national tours traveling around the United States, and production on West End. I’ve seen the show three times. The first time on Broadway (awkwardly squished between my mother and grandmother, no less), another time when it came to Orlando, Florida, and finally when it came back to Orlando recently. (If you know the show, you know Orlando is a very special place in Book of Mormon.)
I have to say that out of all three companies of the show I’ve seen, the second national tour is my favorite! There was something about the show that just made it sparkle (more than usual, I mean). Part of this was because of the incredible Daxton Bloomquist. Bloomquist played Elder McKinley, the fabulous, pink-loving, closeted Mormon who urged his fellow Mormons to just “Turn It Off”. While this was only his second week on tour, he definitely had his role down. He truly was spectacular. I could go on and on about Bloomquist, but I’ll just leave it at this – I’ve never seen a better McKinley and I doubt anyone could surpass his incredible performance.
Fortunately, when I attended the Book of Mormon Master Class held at the newly opened Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Daxton Bloomquist was teaching along with phenomenal ensemble member Cessalee Stovall who also shines brightly on the stage. Every time she appeared, my eyes were glued to her. I’m not going to lie, when I see a performer I like on stage, I talk about it. A lot. And I’m pretty sure my parents had gotten annoyed with me blabbing about Elder McKinley. So when I showed up to the Master Class, wondering what incredible Mormon or member of an African tribe would lead us, I nearly flipped out seeing the actor I’d been talking about walk-in along with my favorite Ugandan woman.
The Master Class began and I sat in a semicircle, internally fangirling to the extreme. After being asked a few questions by the Director of Education at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Dana Brazil, they began the showcase (after I expressed how impressed I was about their performance). There are several different types of Master Classes. There are dance Master Classes, acting Master Classes, singing Master Classes, and audition Master Classes. This one was one of the latter types. One at a time, the students of the class make their way to the center of the room and present a piece, monologue, or sixteen bars of a song, to the class.
The mood of the room was tense and I could tell everybody was nervous. Bloomquist and Stovall did their best to make everyone as comfortable as possible. One by one each student gave their books to the pianist, stood directly in front of the tables and slated their pieces. There wasn’t an untalented person in that room. Every performer had excellent pitch and could hold a tune. Simple problems were pointed out and corrected kindly. For example, one performer moves their hands too much so they sat on their hands and sang again, this time using their face to show the story. Another student didn’t move enough, so they had him run from another girl, belting “Kiss of the Spider Woman”. While this was hilarious, it was incredibly effective. The next time he sang the song, he came alive with excitement in his eyes. It was brilliant!
I decided it was my turn to perform. Instead of singing, I brought a monologue I had been working on and I happened to be the first to perform a monologue in the class. The piece was Blanche’s “Death Monologue” from A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. It’s a very serious piece in which Blanche attempts to put the blame for her troubles on her sister, Stella. I performed the monologue for them and they had some amazing advice. Of course, a lot of it had to do with the way I personally presented the monologue. However, something they said could be applied to every performance and was some of the best advice I’d ever heard.
Bloomquist asked how I related to the monologue personally. After helping me realize why I picked this monologue in the first place, I was transported to a place I’d never experienced. I took the monologue to a level I’d never taken a monologue. A part of me was put into that performance. Since then, I’ve taken a moment to find where I lie within a piece before anything I perform and I feel like I’ve grown because of it. That’s something every performer should do. Putting yourself into your performances will help you connect to your audience. They will be able to tell the pain, love, or joy is authentic.
The Master Class was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I feel so privileged to be able to have done this! The Book of Mormon second national tour is currently making its way across the country. Some upcoming stops are Tampa, Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, Birmingham, Alabama, and more. If you’re interested in Master Classes at your local performing arts center and theaters, look on their websites for more information. If you have the opportunity, take it! And definitely see the show if it’s coming to your town (sixteen and older, explicit language is involved).