A Fiendish Conversation with Book of Mormon's Michael Buchanan
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you returns this day in the city of Seattle a musical, which is The Book of Mormon. Glory in the highest! South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s skewering but warm-hearted Broadway smash returns to spread its irreverent good word at the Paramount Theatre from December 29 through January 10. The story of the golden boy Elder Price and his bumbling partner Elder Cunningham trying to deal with being sent to Uganda for their missionary work is uproariously funny and a must-see for any musical theater fan. This rendition of the show even features a little Northwest flavor in the form of Gig Harbor native and ensemble member Michael Buchanan.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Buchanan about what makes The Book of Mormon exciting for the ensemble, life as a touring actor, and corn dogs at the Unicorn.
What is your favorite aspect of The Book of Mormon?
As a Mormon boy in the show, we literally get shot out of the gate and we keep going till its over. Our backstage choreography and our onstage choreography is very busy and it makes it fly by. But my favorite part of the whole thing is when we’re near the end of act one, because we get to put on these kind of boy band costumes and get to kind of hip-hop it out.
As a member of the ensemble, what elements of the role do you try and focus on in order to keep the energy level up on a day-to-day basis?
In The Book of Mormon, we actually have quite a bit to sink our teeth into, which is nice. And as an actor, its exciting to be in an ensemble where you’re not just in the background. We do have a lot to do. In terms of keeping ourselves ready… it’s a very athletic show, so many of us try our best to get to the gym, and to like not let life on the road get to you in terms of lazying around.
So what’s the touring theater life like and how does it affect your routine compared to just performing in a single city?
Well it’s exactly like doing a show that’s stationary, except that we’re not in our homes. [Laughs] The good thing is we get to explore some towns that we may not have been to before, but the bad thing is you don’t have a home base, so you have to really flex your mental energy to try to keep up with life on the road.
A lot of us are in the same hotel. So you get done with work and you go home, but you’re actually still around all the people that you work with. Luckily for us, and I can say this with honesty, we have a very good and kind company. So it’s nice to see people outside of work. But you have to take my time to really work on your personal life outside of tour, because it can get a little wearing. For some of us on this tour, this will be our second time coming back to Seattle with this company. So we’ve been on the road for about three and half years. It really does get to be a mind game, and you really have to be mentally sharp.
So what was your path from out here to Broadway shows?
From Gig Harbor to Broadway: that’s going to be the title of my memoir. [Laughs] I ended up not going school for musical theater. I went to the University of Puget Sound for vocal performance, so I really studied opera and classical music. I really got some technique under my belt. After that, I really, really tried to get back to the business of theater. I graduated in ’99, and after college I literally got in my little car and started hitting up theaters around the country that I’ve heard of and wanted to audition for. I ended up in New York a few years later and really started to make a career for myself.
How did growing up in Gig Harbor shape what would become your acting career?
As a kid in Gig Harbor, I was involved in choirs and stuff like that before finally discovering musical theater. There was a great community playhouse. They’ve changed names and ownership over the years, but they used to be called Performance Circle [currently the Paradise Theatre]. They used to do a lot of community theater in the fall/winter months in this very small box space, but in the summer months they’d do this concert series and musical series in a meadow up on Peacock Hill. So it was really exciting as a kid to be able to do that within the community and meet some people that really started to shape what I would want to do for the rest of my life.
I caught the bug. I started to ask my parents if we could get season tickets to 5th Avenue Theatre and the touring shows that would come through. I even got my dad really hooked on the bug. I took him to see Miss Saigon when it first toured. He was like, “Wait, this is what you want to do? This is cool with me.” [Laughs]
Was there a specific show that made you catch the musical theater bug?
I got to go to New York with a school trip in sixth grade or so. It wasn’t necessarily steeped in the fact that we were going to see a Broadway show, but that was part of the package that we were all doing car washes to pay for. We saw Phantom of the Opera and Cats. It was the big ones at the time that remain the big ones. but I think we met the actors from one of the shows and that really resonated with me. When I got back, I was really on the path to trying to make this a career for myself.
Are there any things that you make sure to do when you get back to the Seattle/Gig Harbor area?
I’m always making plans with a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while, friends and family and stuff like that. It’s funny to see people [in the company] that have never been to Seattle and now they’re exploring what they want to do. They come to me and they’re like, “What about this? What about this?” Somebody said, “Michael did you know about this bar called the Unicorn?” And I’m like, “Yeah, it’s one of my favorites. They have corn dogs and they slice them and then they put like all this crap in it, and its so good.” [Laughs] I want to take people that have never been to Seattle to these experiences.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
We’re excited to spend New Year’s in Seattle. Even growing up in Gig Harbor, I’ve never really have had a really big New Year’s experience where I see the fireworks from the Space Needle and stuff. This year I think we’re all going to experience that pretty heavily.
The Book of Mormon
Dec 29–Jan 10, Paramount Theatre, $48–$192