Akron native Monica Patton, who has performed with the "The Book of Mormon" tour for nearly seven years, finds both the show's message and the touring community she's a part of to be inspiring.

Patton, who performs in the ensemble in the show's second national tour, is the last original member from her touring company that started in 2012. In this profanely funny, outrageous story about two mismatched Mormon missionaries who attempt to convert villagers in a remote Ugandan village, everything gets turned around, she points out.

"They [the missionaries] themselves become converted by finding the true meaning of grace, tolerance and appreciating their community and the whole human community,'' Patton, speaking by phone from the tour in Salt Lake City last month, said of lead characters Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. "So that translates offstage as well. My tour community uplifts me. They're an extension of my greater village.''

By sharing "The Book of Mormon" in cities across the nation for so many years, Patton, too, has formed strong relationships within the fan community. That's easy to do, she said, because this highly irreverent show is ultimately a feel-good one with a lot of heart.

"I've met some truly wonderful people over the years that have truly become my friends,'' she said.

"The Book of Mormon" is running for 13 performances Friday through Sept. 15 at the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. The show, which won nine Tony Awards, is at Playhouse Square for its fourth engagement, after performances in 2017, 2015 and 2013.

After touring for so long, Patton has made friends in just about every major city in the United States who text her or connect with her through social media to meet for dinner or coffee. Some of them have seen the show 50 to 100 times.

Patton also makes sure she spends quality time with fans at the stage door and enjoys asking repeat audience members about new things they've picked up on. That's a lesson she learned from the late Eartha Kitt, Patton's mentor whom she performed with in the national tour of "Cinderella."

"I remember Eartha would stay for 30 minutes after every show to sign autographs'' and talk, Patton said.

 

Musical satire

Written by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez, "The Book of Mormon" is a satire of numerous things, from Mormon beliefs and practices to musical theater itself.

Patton plays a key part in that musical satire early in the show as Mormon Mrs. Brown, who sees Elder Price and Elder Cunningham off at the airport by dressing in full African regalia to sing them a goodbye song. It's a big spoof on "The Lion King" that comes as close to the inflection of the "The Circle of Life" as it can without plagiarizing, Patton said.

The actress, who previously toured with "The Lion King" as Ashanzi, said an alumna from "The Lion King" usually plays Mrs. Brown to make the spoof as authentic as possible. And if you look closely, you'll see that Mormon Mrs. Brown's costume has a headdress made of brooms, a collar made from a vinyl tablecloth, and a portion of the skirt, depicting a lion, is actually a beach towel.

"It's actually quite brilliant, the detail that has been put into the costume'' to make it look like it's cobbled together from items from Mrs. Brown's home, Patton said.

The actress, a 1987 Central Hower High School graduate, trained as a ballerina at the University of Akron, where she graduated in 1992 before moving to Chicago to apprentice with a modern jazz company. She soon moved to New York, where she was cast in the tour of "Oklahoma" within five months. Patton has been working in the business ever since, including in numerous tours, as well as in "Finian's Rainbow" and "Ragtime" on Broadway.

With the tour in Cleveland now, Patton is looking forward to spending time at home in Akron with her 15-year-old daughter, Milla Gabrielle Richards.

"I'm at my house. I'll be cooking dinner," she said.

Patton's daughter, who toured with her for three years, is now based in Akron with Patton's mother. It has taken a village of supportive family members, also including Patton's sister and cousins, to make things work. Earlier in the summer, Patton and Milla were together on tour in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and in Arizona.

Patton, who calls herself an "old-school gypsy" said she loves the smell of an airport. But when her daughter injured herself after falling down the stairs last year, she was able to leave the tour immediately to be with her.

"They give me time off to be a mother,'' she said.

Tickets: $30-$140. For more information: 216-241-6000, www.playhousesquare.org.

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj