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Elder on a satirical mission

Hillsboro's David Larson returns in 'Book of Mormon' to spread the good word


by: PHOTO COURTESY OF JOAN MARCUS - David Larsen (left), a Portland native who attended Hillsboro High, plays Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, which plays at Keller Auditorium, July 8 to 20.Fifteen years ago David Larsen effectively left the Portland area, attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, living briefly in Los Angeles and then settling down and establishing his acting career in New York City with his wife, Amanda Kloots Larsen.

This week, Larsen returns triumphantly, starring in the ultra-successful Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” playing Elder Price, an alpha-male do-gooder who thinks highly of himself.

To the contrary, as much as he has been through in 15 years, Larson has been humbled by such notoriety.

“I feel fortunate to continue to work in this business,” says Larsen, 34, a Hillsboro High School graduate. “I’m glad that it happened. I’ve been working toward it for a long time.”

Larsen has visited family and friends in the Portland area several times, but “The Book of Mormon” will be his first time performing here since his Hillsboro High days.

“It’s a good way to make a homecoming,” he adds. “My mom is so excited. It’ll be good to see some friends again, and they’ll get to see me do a show.”

A great many critics and Broadway followers consider “The Book of Mormon” one of the best musicals of all-time, and it’s extremely popular. Just like last year’s Portland shows, there’ll be a pre-event lottery for a small number of tickets to the 16 shows at Keller Auditorium, July 8 to 20.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the brains behind “South Park,” developed “The Book of Mormon” as a satire of the Church of Latter Day Saints and founder Joseph Smith.

Clearly, there are some biting moments in the show, but Larsen, who started with the show in December 2013, says he hasn’t heard much criticism from Mormons.

In fact, “I’ve spoken to a lot of Mormons who have come to the show and they laugh harder than anybody,” he says. “They get the inside jokes, the truths about living the LDS life and it’s funny.

“The subject matter of the show, it really isn’t bashing the Mormon church. It’s a sarcastic take on religion. People have been writing books and making movies about Catholics for a long time. ... There’s a good message at the end, a good and positive message. The only thing I’ve heard negative is there may be too many ‘F’ words; everybody has their own level of tolerance.”

The singing initially challenged the tenor Larsen, and he calls it his most vocally demanding role. But, he has built up his endurance.

He describes the missionary Elder Price this way: “Your typical alpha male do-gooder who has pretty much gotten everything in his life. He’s the best and he knows it. He expects the best all the time. When he gets paired up with his partner and then mission location, it’s the exact opposite of what he thought it would be.”

Seeing the show’s popularity in person has been an eye-opener for Larsen.

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF JOAN MARCUS - Portland's David Larsen plays Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, which plays at Keller Auditorium, July 8 to 20.“I’m having a blast,” he says. “The show is so fun to do every night. We’re playing to sold-out houses every single night. The energy is there before we even start; the audience breaks into applause in the first two chords (of music) in anticipation of what’s to come.”

Larsen was born in Portland, but grew up in Aloha/Hillsboro. He wanted to be an athlete, a baseball player specifically, but when his height and physique didn’t help him achieve the dream, he fell back on his love of performing. He took choir in junior high and added theater at Hillsboro High.

Then, it was off to Carnegie Mellon and drama studies and then into the real world. His most prominent roles have been in theater, namely “Hands on a Hardbody,” “American Idiot,” “Billy Elliot” and “Good Vibrations.” He met his actress wife during “Good Vibrations.”

“The Book of Mormon” job came at a good time, because his role in “Hands on a Hardbody” abruptly ended because the producing theater had to close the show. He got an audition for “The Book of Mormon” soon after; had “Hands on a Hardbody” continued, it’s likely that Larsen would have not been able to join the tour.

There are four productions of “The Book of Mormon” — New York City, London and two touring. Larsen’s visit to Portland is part of a Northwest swing; the tour heads to Seattle and Spokane after Portland.

There is a lot of singing and dialogue in the show, and a lot of comedy. Yes, Larsen says, he has watched his share of “South Park” for years.

“If you like ‘South Park’ humor,” he says, “you’ll definitely like this show.”