Meet A.J. Holmes, aka Elder Cunningham in ‘The Book of Mormon’Entertainment Feature, Section 4A Thursday, February 18th, 2016
At this point many Americans know about the mega musical hit The Book of Mormon. If you don’t you most definitely have heard of South Park and its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Mormon took Broadway by storm when it opened there in March 2011 and to date the show is still running on Broadway; it has two national U.S. tours that are still on the road; it is still running in London’s West End and it is slated to open in Australia in January 2017.
Not too shabby for two guys from Colorado who met in college back in 1988. They bonded over Monty Python and a sick and twisted sense of humor.
They went on to create the cartoon South Park, which started as two animated shorts.
They both had a love for music and theater and created works like Cannibal! The Musical and the South Park album Chef Aid: The South Park Album.
So, it should come as no surprise that they made their way to Broadway with Mormon that went into development in 2003.
They teamed with Robert Lopez, of Frozen fame, who helped with the book, lyrics and music as well and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mormon will return to San Diego (Feb. 23 through March 6) after it’s sold out engagement here in spring 2014.
It might be best to say you should get your seats now before the show sells out this time around. You won’t be sorry you did. While the show does push the envelope every chance it gets, it is all done in fun and, if you are like most, you’ll find yourself laughing along with everyone else about things you never thought you’d find funny.
As with most long tours actors who originated roles in the beginning have been replaced with new fresh-faced actors who play Mormons.
This time around A.J. Holmes, of Agoura Hills, Calif., will be playing the role of Elder Cunningham, the lovable screwed up Mormon who has no idea what it is to be a Mormon. He makes up mostly everything about the Mormon faith when faced with explaining what it is to be Mormon and the results are hilarious.
It could be said that Holmes may have been cut from a cloth similar to that of Parker and Stone. He too has a twisted sense of humor and has also written a few musicals. One is appropriately named Twisted!
“Twisted came about collaborating with my lyricist, Kaley McMahon (also from Agoura Hills), Matt Lang, Nick Lang and Eric Kahn Gale,” Holmes said. “I had worked with all of them before on separate projects. I grew up with Kaley and I knew Matt, Nick and Eric from StarKid Productions. Matt, Nick and Eric sent me the story and asked if I’d be interested, and for the next six months we held Google Hang-Outs until the whole thing was written and produced. It took over our lives completely, but we love that show. I haven’t been working on anything new in the musical theater world since then – I’ve just been focusing on performing every night and traveling the country.”
Holmes is also responsible for the musicals A Very Potter Musical originally titled Harry Potter: The Musical and Me and My Dick; two shows he wrote in college with Glee star Darren Criss.
Me and My Dick was a StarKid show I helped write in college with my buddy Carlos Valdes, Holmes said. “Darren had been involved in the Harry Potter musical the year before, so he contributed some songs as well. The “seed” of Me and My Dick was a 20 minute musical I had written at a 24-hour theater festival the year before with Matt Lang. We extended it to a full length version my sophomore year of college with Nick Lang, Brian Holden and Eric Kahn Gale. I’m actually very proud of it, I love that show. I think it’s such a sweet story. Seriously.”
It seems pretty clear with shows like that Holmes was destined to do Mormon. However he never expected to play the role of Cunningham, who is usually played by a larger actor. In fact, his audition process surprised him at every turn.
“I had huge doubts I was right for the part,” Holmes admits. “In fact I didn’t think I stood a chance of getting cast. That’s probably part of why I was able to loosen up and have a good audition. I had four auditions total, and every time my agents called me and told me I had another appointment I would laugh at them. I thought it was such a long shot that I basically didn’t put any hope into it until I showed up for my fourth audition and Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] were sitting dead center in a room full of 25-30 people. Then I thought, ‘maybe this is real’. At that audition, I accidentally dropped all of my script pages on the floor. Maybe they thought it was on purpose. It wasn’t.”
In fact Holmes was allowed to give his own spin on the character of Cunningham and was supported every step of the way.
“The directors were always very supportive of me taking the role in my own direction,” Holmes confided. “Copying someone else isn’t an effective way to arrive somewhere authentic, and the directors know that. Our work was always about clarifying what the intentions of my character are, and then working honestly to express those intentions. Interestingly, I started off as a standby – so, until I got the chance to work with directors, I copied everything I could from the incredibly talented Ben Platt. I thought his performance was awesome, and I wanted to fit into the current mold until everyone could get used to me. Then, as I started transitioning into performing more often, I broke free of that mold and found my own ‘Arnold.’”
Holmes has now played the role of Elder Cunningham on Broadway, in London’s famed West End and now on tour. It’s probably safe to assume he enjoys being a part of the show.
“I love so many moments in this show,” Holmes said. “Truly I love any moment I’m playing opposite my co-star, Mr. Billy Tighe. We met 1 1/2 years ago in London, and he has become one of my best friends. I’m always so grateful to be sharing the stage with him, and to have him in my life. I’ve heard something about him having a “wife” and while I’m not sure what that’s about I look forward to us moving in together in New York City this year.”
Sounds like Holmes’ future is on course and well on its way. However, if he couldn’t do what he was doing today, he’d still want to give back in another way.
“I think I would be a teacher,” Holmes said. “I’ve always loved sharing knowledge, and I love working with young performers and writers. Hopefully one day I’ll get the chance!”
The Book of Mormon plays Feb. 23-March 6 at the San Diego Civic Theatre. For tickets call 619-570-1100 or purchase online at broadwaysd.com
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