Local actor even dumps dairy for ‘Book of Mormon’ role
Syesha Mercado (front) and James Vincent Meredith of Oak Park in "The Book of Mormon" at Bank of America Theatre. | Photo by Joan Marcus
‘THE BOOK OF MORMON’
through June 2
Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago
(800) 775-2000; www.BroadwayInChicago.com
Updated: January 24, 2013 1:30PM
James Vincent Meredith is best known for his dramatic roles at Steppenwolf Theatre, where he is an ensemble member, and at other acclaimed Chicago theaters.
And his television credits include playing the tough, determined Alderman Ross on the TV series “Boss.” So what is the Evanston native — he graduated from Evanston Township High School in 1989 — and current Oak Park resident doing singing and dancing as tribal leader Mafala Hatimbi in the hilarious musical parody, “The Book of Mormon”? We thought we’d ask.
Question: This is such a different role for you. Why did you audition for “The Book of Mormon” [about two young Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda]?
James Vincent Meredith: It’s something that I normally would not have thought twice about even approaching because I’ve never really fancied myself a singer beyond the karaoke bar circuit. But my agent put it on the table and said, “This is something that I think you should really have fun with it. They’re not looking for a typical Broadway-style singer. They’re looking for a strong actor who can kind of carry a tune and help tell the story.” If you told me a year ago that I’d be doing this, I would have laughed at you.
Q: Is being in this show the most exercise you’ve gotten onstage?
JVM: It’s a real challenge. I’ve done other work onstage that is much heavier line-wise and role-wise but I’m using different muscles, literally and figuratively, as far as the dancing is concerned, as far as the singing is concerned, as far as doing them simultaneously. I’m in awe of Nic Rouleau and Ben Platt, [who play the missionaries], because they have a lot of movement and a lot of singing and they’re both extraordinary — as well as our ensemble. Ensembles in musicals do a lot of the heavy lifting and these guys are the best of the best.
Q: The last time we talked, your main form of exercise was that you and your wife would ride your bikes to an ice cream parlor.
JVM: I know [laughing]. I have to do a little bit more than that now. And I miss the ice cream. I have to cut out dairy because that isn’t so great for the voice. I’ve had to make several lifestyle changes. Apparently this show is good for my health because I’ve lost a few pounds.
Q: There are such silly things going on around you during the show. How hard is it to keep from laughing?
JVM: Very, very hard. It’s a battle that I tend to lose on occasion. I wouldn’t be surprised if people come back repeatedly because there are so many things that are going on at the same time onstage. You’re not going to see it all the first time through. Nic Rouleau and Ben Platt are bringing amazing stuff to the table every show. They both seem to have a bottomless well of new ideas that they’re bringing out with each performance that keeps us laughing.
Q: Have your parents seen the show?
JVM: They have not seen it yet. It is on their radar but I understand they are a bit reticent given the risqué lyrics.
Q: What was your wife’s reaction to the show?
JVM: She loves it. We’re both fans of “South Park” and we were rolling on the floor when we watched “Team America: World Police” [hit animated TV series and movie also written by “The Book of Mormon’s” Trey Parker and Matt Stone].
Q: Do you think being in the show is going to alter the way you feel about people who come to your door with religious pamphlets?
JVM: I may be a little more patient with them than perhaps I was before.