The distance from Shakespeare to “South Park” is all a matter of perspective. Both rely on the strength of the text to paint a picture, generate emotion, and breed delicious controversy. Only the most capable actor can build a bridge between the two by stepping back and letting the words do all the work.James Vincent Meredith was eager for the opportunity to test his comedic timing and vocal abilities as part of the national production of The Book of Mormon, but he knew he was in for a challenge. As a dramatic actor with extensive stage and small screen experience, he knew he would be expected to color outside the lines of his previous roles. Meredith worried that he wasn’t considered a “triple threat,” but when you have the opportunity to give life to the words of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, you do what is required of the role.
“For me, it was kind of a challenge in that I don’t usually do a lot of comedies, and I don’t do a lot of musicals. I was kind of challenged in two respects, but to a degree you have to attack what you fear, and there was a lot to fear going into this show,” Meredith says. “Again, I was dealing with rehearsing with all of these guys that are on the top of their game as far as the musical aspect of it. I had to take my music a lot more serious. I had to take a few voice lessons that I had never done before, and I had to prep for things that I normally wouldn’t do for a conventional play.”
Meredith first joined the cast as Mafala Hatimbi in December, 2012 which ran for 10 months.
“It’s been a blast,” he says. “These actors are the triple threats, the best of the best. The show did very well in New York and once the auditions came down the pike, every really amazing triple threat dancer/singer/actor was trying to get a part in this show. They had the pick of the litter. I’m honored to be with these guys.”
He has previously appeared on Broadway in Superior Donuts and Off Broadway in The Bluest Eye. In Chicago, Meredith has had roles in Pain and the Itch, Crucible, Carter’s Way, Tempest, Clybourne Park, The March, Othello, Duchess of Malfi, Julius Caesar, Measure for Measure, Much Ado About Nothing (Chicago Shakespeare), Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, and King Lear.
Meredith is also a familiar face on the small screen, having appeared in episodes of Law and Order SVU, Prison Break, Detroit 187, Chicago Code, The Mob Doctor, and Alderman Ross on BOSS. As the village chief in The Book of Mormon, he continues come into his own, which is easy to do when the material is so strong.
“There are certain things you try and hit better with each passing show. I think the important thing for me is to try and not make it funny, to just kind of let the words do what they do. Trey and Matt are such amazing writers and the jokes are already in the script. There isn’t really much that we have to do to gloss things a bit. I think it is something that I learned and every actor that has been doing this a while has to remember. We don’t really have to work very hard. The work has been done by the writers. All we have to do is try not to screw it up.”
With a professional resume heavy on Shakespearean classics, Meredith is well-versed in the power of language and the value of the sub-text that can exist within a text. “The classics are so well-written, and a lot of the humor is in the text. Particularly with Shakespeare, there is so much that he sets up within the words that he uses. There is a lot of direction without saying ‘act this way or do that.’ The words just tell you what to do if you follow them and read them closely enough. And I think that is the case here as well. You don’t really need to “act” if you just trust the language, and I think that is the case whether you are doing a really great musical or a really great classic. Just trust the text.”
Despite his penchant for the classics, Meredith admits he is a huge fan of “South Park.” Stone and Parker’s influence is so far-reaching that Meredith has a hard time trying to find someone who is not familiar with their work on “South Park” and Team America, even his own parents. “They were going to see the show, and I said ‘you know, this is going to be interesting because it is Trey Parker and Matt Stone that did “South Park.” And they were like ‘we know what “South Park” is.’ And I was like, oh, okay. It seems like they are kind of ubiquitous, at least “South Park” is. Team America: World Police is kind of untouchable. I was already a big fan before I even read this script, even though I was not happy with the way Chef died.”
Meredith says the controversial nature of the The Book of Mormon and the often button-pushing themes of “South Park” are easier to digest in a comedic format. “A spoon full of sugar, you know?” he laughs. “If you were to come to an audience and say that this musical is going to deal with AIDS and the premature death of babies and warlords terrorizing villages in Africa, I don’t know that it is really going to get as much attention at the box office,” Meredith says.
“That’s why I’m a huge fan of live theatre. You know immediately night to night what is working and what isn’t working. And often I find that to be a lot more rewarding. Whether I am doing musicals or straight drama or whatever, there is a relationship that you build over the course of an evening with an audience. You can make them feel closer to you, or if you’re not really telling the story, you can lose them completely. There’s a lot of tactile reaction from a live audience that you just won’t get doing TV.”
Meredith has logged over 800 shows with this production, and his favorite moments are unscripted, when a line is read wrong or someone comes in too early or too late. There is beauty in the imperfections, and he is grateful to share the collective experience with his cast mates.
“What’s cool is that I’m still learning. We have been so lucky to be so successful and be going as long as we’ve been. New people come in and you find different things with each person, and you find that you’re learning a lot about their work as well as yours,” he says. “I’ve learned again to trust the language more. When I first entered into this, I thought to do comedy, you have to do all this extra work. I thought that there were all these different things that you have to do to be funny. I don’t think I realized that a lot of really good comedians that are on stage are funny because they trust the language. It’s all about the value of just saying the words.”
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LOTTERY TICKET POLICY
THE BOOK OF MORMON, winner of nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, is pleased to announce a lottery ticket policy for the National Tour. In Jacksonville, the production will conduct a pre-show lottery in the Times-Union Center’s lobby, making a limited number of tickets available at $25 apiece.
THE BOOK OF MORMON Jacksonville Ticket Lottery Rules:
· 2½ hours prior to each performance, patrons fill out a Lottery Entry Form (name, date, 1 or 2 tickets) in the theater lobby.
· Patrons must have a photo ID and must be present to enter. One entry per person per lottery. Hands will be stamped to prevent duplicate entries.
· 2 hours prior to each performance, winners’ names will be drawn at random. Winners must be present when their names are called, or they forfeit their tickets.
· Winners can buy up to 2 tickets at $25 each per photo ID with cash or credit card; no checks accepted. · Tickets are subject to availability.