Brandon’s Cody Strand is giving his regards to Broadway
June 11. 2013 10:21AM
Kurt Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.”
Winthrop in “The Music Man.”
Nicely-Nicely Johnson in “Guys and Dolls.”
Smee in “Peter Pan.”
Those all are roles that Cody Jamison Strand made his own on stages in Brandon and Vermillion. Now he’s doing the same thing with the part of Elder Cunningham in “The Book of Mormon.”
Except this time he’s on stage at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. On Broadway. Where, the song says, the neon lights are bright and there’s always magic in the air.
It wasn’t magic that put Strand, a 2008 graduate of Brandon Valley High School, on a Broadway stage, however.
It’s his essence, says longtime friend and director Kevin Brick: real, sincere, lovable and immensely talented.
“Anything you gave Cody to do, it was brilliant,” says Brick, who first directed Strand in “Sound of Music” in 2000.
“When he was Nicely-Nicely in ‘Guys and Dolls,’ he always brought some food onstage. He would bring sandwiches and bagels. One night the sandwich was so big it fell out of his hand on the floor, and he made a whole bit out of it.”
Brick traveled to Vermillion to see Strand play the role of Smee in the University of South Dakota’s production of “Peter Pan.”
Any resemblance between Cody’s priceless version of Captain Hook’s henchman and how it was written was purely coincidental, Brick says.
Strand’s opening night as Elder Arnold Cunningham, one of two Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to proselytize, occurred on May 28. He was on tour with “The Book of Mormon’s” traveling cast when he learned he had been chosen as the seventh actor to play Cunningham on Broadway, counting standby actors.
Strand had been cast as the standby Cunningham for the tour, which took him from Boston to Seattle. It’s not the same as being an understudy. An understudy has another role in a play, Strand says. The standby “just sits backstage and waits for the chance to go onstage.”
“I found out three weeks before I was to leave to go to New York,” Strand says in a telephone interview. “It was a very intense three weeks, and I’d just done a weekend of shows. They were filming the show for archival purposes is what they said, and it turns out the producers wanted to see me in it.”
Strand describes the phone call telling him he was being shifted from standby actor with the touring production of “The Book of Mormon” to the Broadway show as “one of the strangest, more surreal phone calls I’ve ever had in my life. You feel it in the pit of your stomach. I hung up the phone with him and threw up in the toilet, just trying to take it in.”
The role originated with actor Josh Gad when “The Book of Mormon” premiered in March 2011, and he stayed with the show until June 2012. He was nominated for a Tony Award for the role.
Now, however, it’s time to make it Strand’s. Family and friends says that will be no problem. His older brother, in fact, describes Strand’s personality as similar to Elder Cunningham’s.
“(Cunningham)’s just goofy and weird and loud and doesn’t have a good sense of personal boundaries, that whole thing, but he’s just a sweet person on the inside,” Strand says. “He’s just goofy. I’m totally good with (the similarities). It’s probably what got me this part.”
His parents, the Rev. Kirk and Jennifer Strand, his brother and younger sister were present on opening night at the O’Neill.
“It was an amazing experience,” says Kirk Strand, pastor of Brandon Valley Assembly of God. “Currently the leading (actors) on Broadway include Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin and Bette Midler. And here’s this kid from Brandon, S.D., in one of the hottest plays in America. The third-highest-grossing play in America. He’s up there singing every night with a Tony Award winner, Nikki (M.) James.”
His family always has supported him, says Cody Strand, who focused on God and music before theater took over.
“The Book of Mormon” was written by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone.
Parker and Stone are the co-creators of the cable television series “South Park.” The TV show and musical share the same skewed sense of humor and blunt language.
Because of that, Cody Strand says he worried a bit when his family came to see him on tour with “The Book of Mormon.” But he says its message overcomes the raunchiness, and his parents understand that.
“The show brings such happiness to people,” he says. “At the end, everyone is on their feet cheering for the show, its message and how beautiful it is. The message I would say is probably that faith, any sort of faith, whatever faith you have is important, and you need to hang on to it because it will help you in a dark time.”
Cody Strand also will remember a saying his family often shares with each other, Brick says: “You’re not as good as you think you are, and you’re not as bad as they say you are.”
“He is unique,” Brick says. “He always has been this incredible bundle of talent that understands where his niche is and where he fits.”
If you go
If you’re headed to New York City and want to see Cody Jamison Strand perform in “Book of Mormon,” visit www.bookofmormonbroadway