As a young girl, Kayla Pecchioni never dreamed she’d be one of the main leads for a national touring production of the ridiculously popular and successful musical The Book of Mormon (How popular? By one account, in 2013, its various productions around the country, and world, were raking in $20 million a month).
Pecchioni wanted to be a dancer, and didn’t even discover musical theater until she hit high school.
But even then, she had no inkling that, at age 25, she’d be playing Nabulungi, the female lead of the Southpark-infused saga, and singing the show’s only true (if tongue-in-cheek) ballad, its playfully erotic psycho-sexual baptism number, and it’s feel-good closing number.
Nor did she have any idea that she would be saying the following words, ones that surely rank among those of Shakespeare in terms of potency, imagination and brilliance:
“Joseph Smith took his magical fuck frog and rubbed it upon Brigham Young’s clit-face”
Although those words, and this show, were not on her career radar until relatively recently, Pecchioni says she is relishing every moment of the biggest break of her performing career. Even if it is in a show that she admits she didn’t quite get until she started working it.
While attending Northern Kentucky University, Pecchioni was involved in musical theater, and like any musical theater aficionado, she had heard of Mormon. But after going with a friend who had an extra ticket, she, well, she didn’t know.
“I didn’t know what to expect, and I had no preparation for how outlandish it was,” Pecchioni says. ” I definitely enjoyed it, but I don’t think I understood it. It took me actually being involved in this (tour) to really get it.”
And while what “it” is is debatable, few can discount that the show, created by the Southpark duo of Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q’s Robert Lopez, which follows a group of high-strung Mormon missionaries traveling to a remote part of Africa to turn on the natives to the gospel-by-way-of-Joseph-Smith, is one of the most irreverent, sacrilegious and jaw-droppingly offensive major musical hits in the history of major musicals.
And Pecchioni is currently playing a major role in this, the second national tour (now on its sixth year, which follows the first national tour, which lasted four years). And while she realizes that the subject matter, and Mormon missionaries unintentionally singing along to a tribal song that basically calls for people, when suffering misfortune, to cry “fuck you, God,” might rile devout Latter-Day Saints, she hopes most realize that this show is an equal-opportunity offender.
“First off, Mormons are for the most part very aware of our show,” she says. “We’ve had Mormons advertise in the playbill and even have them come out and hand out (the real) Book of Mormon, so they know about it. And we have ex-Mormons who see it and love it. Yes, we poke fun at the (Mormon religion) but what sells the show at the end of the day is that everyone gets poked fun at. Different races, different religions, everyone gets the brunt of the show. Plus, we are having so much fun and mean no harm with any of it.”
And what is like playing Nabalungi , the naïve, idealistic native who gets some of the most beautiful pieces of music, and lines, as well as some of the the raunchiest?
“It is a challenge, for me particularly,” Pecchioni said. “I’ve never done something on this large of a scale, so to take on this role and play all the facets, the funny, dramatic, sad and dreamy and to get these classic lines? I couldn’t have asked for a better role. I get to cover so many facets and it’s a riot. Fans always ask, ‘how do you not laugh?’ Well, trust me, the laughs are there. We are just hiding them as much as we can.”
Pecchioni has appeared in smaller shows across the country and, while working as a performer for Norwegian Cruise Lines, traveled the world. Her biggest gig before this was as a member of the Rockettes, who have played Radio City Musical Hall in New York since 1932. So, she’s no stranger to stepping into big performing shoes.
“It’s extremely overwhelming at first,” she says, of joining a show that is so well known by so many people. “I’m terrified at any new job, but at Radio City, you know the legacy you’re stepping into. But I always dreamed of being a Rockette. (Book of Mormon) is different. I had prepared myself for a career in musical theater but stepping into this took a lot of reassuring from other people that I could do it. Because I didn’t know if I could. But, honestly, it wasn’t up to me They threw me on stage before I thought I was ready, and somehow it all worked.”
She’s been with the tour for three months and played some 10 cities.
“So, Ms. World Traveler, what do you think of Orange County?”
“Just three words. First ones that pop into your mind?”
“Umm…Desperate Housewives, orange and…sunshine.”
“I didn’t know it was in Orange County so I didn’t immediately relate it.”
(Hey, OC Chamber of Commerce: Do a better job of getting the word out!!!!
While Pecchioni is relatively new to the Book of Mormon, she realizes that most of the audience is quite familiar with it. (This national tour first touched down in OC in 2014.) So what does she tell people who may have seen the show before, and think they’ve been there, done that?
“My mother has seen the show four times,” she says. “She says every time she come back there is something she has missed, something that is new. Because our show is so quick, fast-paced, and hilarious. You’re laughing so much that often you miss the next joke. I’d had fans come up to me and said, “I’ve seen this show 20 times and tonight I saw this and I’d never seen it before.”
Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa (714) 556-2787. Opens March 20. Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Thru April 1. $34.75-$176. Pre-show lottery before every performance. Entries accepted 2 1/2 hours prior to each perfomance. If you’re picked, tickets are $25.
Joel Beers has written about theater and other stuff for this infernal rag since its very first issue in, when was that again???