Theater stars talk about smallscreen adventures
They were both Tony-nommed for their respective turns in The Book of Mormon. And they both won Grammys for that cast album.
This summer, Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells move onto competing for the Emmys — but involving lead roles in different shows, although they were later canceled: Gad for NBC’s 1600 Penn and Rannells for the network’s The New Normal, with added attention likely for his guest role on HBO’s Girls.
TV-wise, The Book of Mormon has turned into a latter-day Spelling Bee in becoming a Broadway tuner linked to stars on the tube, including not only Gad and Rannells but also Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) and Dan Fogler (Man Up).
Gad actually replaced Fogler in Bee, and it was a tape from that show that led him to Mormon scribe Robert Lopez. They were in rehearsals for a reading of Mormon, before it was even called The Book of Mormon, when Lopez stopped Gad.
“You have a great voice, but you sound different on that demo,” the thesp recalls Lopez telling him. “Bobby had been listening to the wrong person on the tape! It worked out for me, but it is sheer coincidence that I won him over with my voice.”
It’s a singing voice that the profs at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon didn’t appreciate. “I studied drama, but I couldn’t get into the musical theater department there,” Gad says. “They told me, ‘You have everything, except you can’t sing and dance.’”
Regarding that oft-trod road from stage to TV, Gad notes, “The kinetic energy you feel when you do a live taping, it perfectly mirrors being in a musical in any theater. And that eight-show-a-week cycle on stage is something that TV mirrors as well. I just think that’s where the comparison ends. They are extraordinarily different mediums.”
Rannells also mentions “the live-theater element” of taping a TV show, but adds that there are other ways the two types of performance dovetail.
“Broadway has evolved,” Rannells says. “It has become more contemporary. Everyone assumes (the stage actor) will be too large for TV, but it’s not as big an adjustment as people may think.”
As a result of Mormon, Rannells met with Lena Dunham about Girls before anyone “knew what it was.” Then came a meeting with Ryan Murphy before anyone knew much about The New Normal. Rannells recalls Dunham warning him about the so-called Water Bottle Tour of L.A.
“You go from meeting to meeting, and you leave with a bottle of Perrier or Poland Spring,” he says. “Everyone offers you water, and your rental car is littered with plastic bottles.”
But the tour paid off, and he and Murphy were in total agreement on one big point.
“I was adamant there had to be affection between the two men on the show,” Rannells recalls. “It’s a network sitcom so not a lot of sex, but I wanted there to be handholding and kissing and touching. As a gay man, what I often find rings untrue with straight actors playing gay characters is that middle ground. They’re not a couple acting like a couple. That is removed from the equation. And it was important for Justin Bartha and me to be a real couple. And Ryan was in total agreement.”