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They Don't Make 'Em Like This In Utah

Nina Martin | November 29, 2012 | Lifestyle Story Culture

Let me get this straight—you’ve never been to San Francisco until now? How is that possible?
I don’t know why! I haven’t spent a lot of time in California. This is the place I’m most excited to visit—I feel like it’s where my people are.

Mormon sold out in 90 minutes here.
I’ve never seen a crowd go mental the way they do for this show. I think it’s because they get more than they were expecting. The people who come for South Park and vulgarity [à la writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone] are surprised at how moved they are—this show has the biggest heart ever. Whereas the ones who come expecting a great Tony Award–winning musical are surprised by how shocking and in-your-face it is.

You’re playing a 19-year old, but you’re almost twice that age.
I could never have played this role 5 years ago, 10 years ago, certainly not when I was actually 19. I was too much like Elder Price—I didn’t have the objectivity; I was self-righteous and know-it-all-y. I thought I was great, a great person. Because I’ve gone around the track, I feel like I can honor my character better. Thank God my mother has good skin.

Has the show affected your thinking about Mitt Romney? Does he remind you of Elder Price?
My hairstyle is definitely modeled after his. That’s as close as it gets.

On Broadway, your role was originated by Andrew Rannells [now of HBO’s Girls and NBC’s The New Normal]. He’s a good friend of yours, correct?
Oh, he’s one of my greatest friends.

Are you guys a couple? Because on, there are all these stories about how cute you two are.
[Sigh, then off-the-record answer] I feel like I’m outing ourselves. We never comment on it, ever. We just take pictures of each other, and people are like, “What’s up with you two?” and we’re like, “What are you talking about?” It’s just hilarious.

What’s it like to follow in your BFF’s footsteps?
It was incredible to watch Andrew take on a role that seemed tailor-made for him. Never once did I think I might do it someday. At first, I was totally intimidated, because he was so genius.

Besides doing musicals, you write songs. One, “Noise,” has become a bit of a gay anthem.
When I was in Hair, I came out in a magazine. Not on purpose—the guy was like, “Do you identify with homosexuality professionally or personally?” And I was like, “I don’t particularly want to say I’m gay, but screw it, whatever.” It was as if a weight lifted off me. After that, I woke up as far as gay rights are concerned. That song is one of my proudest moments.

You also have a funny tribute to Whitney Houston.
I wanted to write a song in response to all the bullying and the kids who were killing themselves. But instead of a put-your-chin-up-type ballad that’s trying to make you cry, I wanted to do something that said, no, be proud of who you are—be proud of being this fruity little kid who dances in your underwear to girl music. I was trying to get Whitney to do a cameo for the YouTube video when she died. It’s such a great loss.

The Book of Mormon, through Dec. 30.

Originally published in the December 2012 issue of San Francisco.

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