For many kids, starring in the national tour of a Broadway smash hit like “Book of Mormon” means living the dream they’ve had since they were a child. Not so for Gabe Gibbs.
“I fell in love with acting when my football career ended my freshman year of high school,” he says with a laugh. “I broke my collarbone and auditioned for my first show the next day.”
With such a dramatic beginning, it seems clear that Gibbs was a natural fit for theater. “I was a lot better at theater than football,” he jokes. He continued performing throughout high school and studied theater in college, deciding to take a leap of faith after graduating. “I moved out to LA because I had done some film and TV work,” he notes, “and I ended up auditioning for ‘Book of Mormon’ out there.” Since then, he’s moved from the tour to Broadway and back again. Gibbs will be in Louisville starting November 29 performing as one of the show’s leads, Elder Price.
For many Louisvillians, the show is at least familiar by name. “Book of Mormon” exploded onto the Broadway stage in 2011, propelled by its stunning ability to make audiences laugh and cry with equal energy. The production swept the Tony Awards, winning Best Musical and several other top honors.
But for those who don’t know the show, Gibbs has a synopsis of its comedy: “We follow two Mormon boys who get sent on their two-year mission into Uganda. My character is the all-American type guy, and my co-star is the classic nerdy guy. We get paired together and have to overcome our differences and figure out how to convert our new Ugandan friends to Mormonism.”
For those who think the storyline sounds irreverent, it is. “Book of Mormon” glories in unorthodox and relatable moments, but beneath the veneer of stock characters and bawdy jokes lies a genuine message. “I would first put it under the umbrella of being created and written by the creators and writers of ‘South Park’; It’s really smart, really funny,” Gibbs says of the humor. “The show has such a good heart. Some people can think that it’s just satirical and irreverent, and I don’t think that’s the case at all.”
He continues: “I think it’s a show specifically about Mormons but more grandly about religion as a whole, which everyone has a relationship with to some degree. The show forces people to ask questions that they wouldn’t ordinarily ask.” Touching songs like his character’s second-act solo “I Believe” manage to weave together funny lines and the heart of the show in a way that is astoundingly powerful. “It shows that if a religion is cheap and empty – if you’re in it for just yourself – it’s broken and useless,” Gibbs explains. His character, Elder Price, learns the importance of connecting his deep faith to the characters and world around him.
The performance is a blend of utterly ridiculous and entirely accessible moments that audiences love. Its powerful combination of humor and heart is what propelled “Book of Mormon” to international fame, and it’s sure to be as much of a smash success in Louisville as it was in New York City. “We cover it in spicy language and our funny jokes, but it’s an important show,” Gibbs says. “And it’s fun from start to finish.” VT
Book of Mormon runs November 29 to December 4 at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. To purchase tickets, visit kentuckycenter.org, call 502.584.7777 or visit the box office.