Earlier this week, the producers of Book of Mormon revealed the cast for the smash hit musical’s Australian premiere in Melbourne next year.
Leading the company is Canadian performer Ryan Bondy, who has played Elder Price in several US tours of the show, and US performer A.J. Holmes, who has played Elder Cunningham on US tours, Broadway and the West End.
But while there’s been a fair bit of excitement that Australian audiences will get to see these two performers — particularly Holmes, who is well-known by the show’s fans — members of Australia’s acting and musical theatre community have expressed frustration and anger that these two prized roles have gone to non-Australian performers.
After the casting announcement was made, actor, writer and artistic director of Adelaide Cabaret Festival Eddie Perfect tweeted this response:
What’s up with Book Of Mormon importing leads? Literally 99.9% of music theatre performers in Australia are Elder Price.
— Eddie Perfect (@Eddieperfect) November 14, 2016
The role of Elder Price is an enthusiastic, young, clean-cut white man with a clear, light tenor singing voice. Blake Bowden, an experienced Australian performer who fits the casting brief perfectly, has been announced as the “cover” for Elder Price.
It’s rumoured that he will take over the role as a lead in several months, alongside Australian performer Jay James-Moody, who is the cover Elder Cunningham.
Other principal roles are filled by Australian performers Bert LaBonte, Zahra Newman and Rowan Witt, but more than a third of the company is made up of non-Australian performers.
— Matthew Backer (@MatthewBacker) November 14, 2016
Why are there so many imports for #BookOfMormonsAU? There are seriously plenty of local Aussie talents that can take on those roles. 😑😒
— Josie.L (@Josie0412) November 14, 2016
The casting announcement comes several months after outcry over an increase in international performers in Australian musicals, with productions such as My Fair Lady, Aladdin, Ghost and Kinky Boots all engaging international performers for key roles.
But there are also currently a fair number of Australian performers playing leading roles in international productions — just this morning it was announced that Hayden Tee and Simon Gleeson will be taking on the lead roles of Javert and Valjean in the West End production of Les Miserables.
Rumour has it that international producers of Book of Mormon insist that performers experienced in the two lead roles open each new production around the world (the West End production, for example, opened with two Americans).
Local actors and artists have sounded off on Facebook over the last few days. Some of the comments include:
“Congrats to all the Aussie’s involved but if I was a music theatre actor I’d be pretty annoyed by what seems like a constant preference for overseas talent. It particularly blows my mind as anytime I’ve been lucky enough to see a Broadway show it’s proven to me time and time again that we have equal – if not superior – talent.”
“If you suggest Australia can’t fill the two leads in the Book of Mormon then don’t bring it two Australia!! Just don’t!! You know what we did? We did a show called Wicked!!!! We did the Producers!!!! We did Hairspray!!! We did Matilda!!! For fuck sake we have done them all!!!! And they have been world class!!! And we have done them all for generations well before my time.”
“When I was a youngster, a long long time ago, starting out in this industry in the ’60s (the 1960’s, not the 1860’s), JC Williamsons imported all the stars for their musicals. Later that decade things changed. For the better. And so, such stars as Nancye Hayes were born. I don’t get why we are going backwards. It’s not like any of these imports are BIG draw cards. Very disappointing.”
Others also questioned why Bowden and James-Moody, both respected and experienced Australian musical theatre performers who could easily become major stars in the industry, have been cast as covers, rather than being placed directly into the principal roles.
“I think an announcement explaining the casting and the quality of people like Blake Bowden and Jay James Moody pushed into cover positions needs explanation.”
“The funny bit about this announcement (vs. say Fair Lady for example), is that these two alternates are beloved, well known established performers in the Aussie industry. The imports that are allegedly allowing the whole project to exist (please!) are completely unknown in oz… though I’m sure they are lovely chaps. But the idea that artists as experienced & reputed as Blake & Jay are alternates to unknown imports is pretty weird to the outside eye.”
Daily Review approached the producers for comment.