A.J. Holmes revels in juicy ‘Mormon’ role 

A.J. Holmes knows a lot about being a Mormon – or at least pretending to.

For the past two years, Holmes has played the role of Elder Cunningham in “The Book of Mormon,” the Tony Award-winning musical that has played to full houses in the U.S. and London. Holmes is the only cast member to appear in all four productions -- the West End, Broadway and both national tours.

Holmes, a Southern California native, is always happy to come back to San Francisco. “The Book of Mormon” runs Wednesday through June 27 at the Orpheum Theatre. Holmes says he never tires of playing Elder Cunningham. The young missionary heads to Uganda to convert the locals but has never actually read the book he’s supposed to be preaching about.

“It’s a hilarious part,” Holmes says. “I get so many good lines that drive the humor of the show.”

It’s easy to see why the tone is just right. “The Book of Mormon” was written by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone along with “Avenue Q’s” Robert Lopez.

Holmes says the purpose of the show is not to make fun of Mormons, noting that the tour will stop in Salt Lake City later this year. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in fact, has bought advertising in the musical playbill. One audience member, he says, converted after seeing the show.

Holmes says being a Mormon elder hasn’t changed his own religious beliefs, which are right in line with the show’s “sense of detached irony.” But he understands why audiences respond so enthusiastically.

“The main message of the show that I really believe is that it’s about making our time on earth the best it can be,” Holmes says.

The boyishly handsome Holmes is a perfect fit for an eager missionary, down to the skinny black tie, the white dress shirt and plastic name badge. At 25, he loves his job and will be sad when it ends – something many people never say.

“It’s so nice to be a part of a show that has something important to say and that says it in a cool way,” Holmes says. “So often musical theater is fluffy. This manages to be both commercial and really meaningful at the same time.”


The Book of Mormon

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market St., S.F.

When: Opens Wednesday; runs Tuesdays-Sundays through June 27

Tickets: $60 to $250

Contact: (415) 551-2075, www.shnsf.com

Note: A limited number of cash-payable $29 tickets will be sold in a lottery before each performance.

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Cathy Bowman

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