Gavin Creel is currently on a third go-round as a West End leading man, following Mary Poppins and Hair, with a knockout turn as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, which opens March 21 at the Prince of Wales Theatre. Creel and co-star Jared Gertner are opening the U.K. premiere of the 2011 Tony winner. Broadway.com caught up with the always-charming performer to talk about following in a good friend's footsteps, taking the show on the road and making a certain OUT Magazine list.
The Book of Mormon marks your third show in London. Can’t stay away, huh?
I guess it’s fate! I came for the first time when I was five because I had relatives who lived in Leicester [north of London], and after that I came during college for four months and then Poppins, Hair and now this—it keeps calling me back. I mean, I’m very much an American to the core, but I really love being here and pretending it’s home!
Those other London credits were great, of course, but Mormon is something else—it’s an event.
That’s exactly what we call it—or what I call it, anyway. It’s not like anything I’ve been a part of. Hair had a bit of an event feeling about it, but this truly is. It says something in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s been said before, so to be a part of it is not something I ever anticipated.
You and Jared were summoned to London from the tour. Were you surprised?
It totally took me by surprise! We were contracted through August to go to Detroit and Pittsburgh and all these cities. But after about a month into our L.A. stretch last fall, they called my agent and said, “We want to talk about Gavin going to London.” To be honest, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to go, and I was also so in love with my tour company, but there was a part of me that just felt as if I was being called back. It was like an old friend tapping me on the shoulder saying, “Hey, what’s up?”
It must be interesting to you that an American has taken this role on the West End, while a British actor, Mark Evans, is now playing Elder Price on the U.S. tour.
It’s kind of the same mentality that the Mary Poppins producers had when they brought me to the West End. I had wanted to be on Broadway to originate the role in New York when they said, “We have a Brit [Gavin Lee] who’s coming over,” so I ended up here. In the same way, Mark Evans is phenomenally talented and he’s out there nailing it, but I am this person, you know what I mean? And Jared and I have this amazing relationship that I’m really proud of, so I’m so grateful to Casey [Nicholaw, co-director] and the directors that they were willing to go, “Let’s bring them to London.”
How has the show been going?
Honestly, when I came here, I was not expecting what we have been greeted with, which is louder, more astute and more involved audiences than we have had on tour. I can’t believe the audiences here, and I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true. I told Jared backstage on tour in the States, “Don’t get used to this because in London they listen really well but they’re not as boisterous and they don’t stand up every time.” And you know what? I am eating my words, and doing so joyfully!
Was Elder Price always on your radar? I gather you’re a good friend of the part’s originator, Andrew Rannells.
Andy and I lived next to each other for five years in Hell’s Kitchen! I had always thought, this was his show and it was never something that I was going to be a part of. My friend Jenn Gambatese and I went during previews, and I remember being so blown away by him and proud of him. Far from thinking of it for myself, I honestly felt as if I was watching my friend realize his full potential. He was living his dream.
Did that put you off tackling the role yourself?
I saw the show in March, and then I went to see it again over Thanksgiving when my sister came to town. I watched it through her eyes, which was like riding a roller coaster ride a million times [laughs]. Then a month or so later, Casey said, “Let’s go to a bar, I’ll bring you the script,” and with every line, all I could hear was Andrew. I know him so well that it just sounded specifically him. And the singing is ridiculously high—it’s insane!—but I suppose after a while I just calmed down. We rehearsed in New York for a month and before we left, I went back to the show one last time just to see someone other than Andrew play the role, and once I saw Nic Rouleau do it, and brilliantly, I was like, it’s OK.
Did you know much about Mormonism before signing on?
To be honest, I did a bit. My other sister lives in Salt Lake City and has for over 12 years. I also studied a bit about it in college. I did some reading and met missionaries and talked to them about it, but the more I learned, the more I realized that the story we’re telling has less to do with religion and more to do with rites of passage and an understanding of life. The beating heart of this show is friendship and “buddy-dom." That’s what it’s built around.
You’re passing very credibly as 19, though you are 36.
People keep saying to me, “You look younger, what’s going on?” I guess I do feel pretty confident. I mean, if you’re going to wake up every day to do a job where you’re projecting bright-eyed optimism, you’ve got to radiate that from the inside out.
You’re here at the same time as fellow Americans Heather Headley in The Bodyguard and Betty Buckley in Dear World [which closed on March 16].
I know of Heather, but I’ve never met her. I met Betty once, but she wouldn’t remember me. When I was here with Mary Poppins that was when Idina [Menzel] was in Wicked, which was cool. But you know, at the moment, I’m keeping the blinders on until we open [on March 21].
How does it feel to have made the recent OUT Magazine list of the 100 “most eligible bachelors?”
Delicious! I think it’s hilarious. I know a lot of guys on that list, and they’re not bachelors. But, you know, how can the magazine confirm that kind of thing without really knowing?
I guess it’s an easy way to discover who else is at least possible.
Tell me about it! [Lowers his voice]: “Hey, number 62? This is number 89.” [Laughs] I’m totally flattered. I’ve arrived!