DETROIT – Sam McLellan just played the Fisher Theatre last year as Dimitri, Anya’s love interest, in the touring production of Anastasia. Now he’s traveling the country as missionary Elder Price to spread laughter with The Book of Mormon.
This is actually McLellan’s third time performing at the Fisher Theatre. He was in the Fiddler on the Roof tour, the final show to play at the Fisher before being interrupted by the pandemic shutdown.
McLellan shares what it’s like to return to the Detroit stage a third time and how growing up with missionary parents helped prepare him for his current role.
How’s touring been with The Book of Mormon?
It’s amazing. I love this show, it has been a huge inspiration for me. When I was 17, my older sister took me to see the show in Chicago. So I saw Ben Platt as Elder Cunningham and Nic Rouleau as Elder Price. I remember seeing him being like, “I want to do that. I think I can do that.” So it was just a huge inspiration for me just doing musical theater in general. It wasn’t until I saw that where I was like, okay, I think there’s something out there that’s really perfect for me in terms of the style of the show, the comedy and how demanding the role is vocally. I love a good challenge.
So compared to performing as Dimitri in Anastasia, you would consider Elder Price as more challenging?
For sure. It’s not to say that Anastasia didn’t have its challenges, it definitely did. But I think that it forces me to flex certain muscles that I certainly didn’t have to flex doing Anastasia, which is not an easy show by any means. But this show definitely takes a lot out of you and it takes a lot to maintain.
And you do a lot more dancing in this show, which I found surprising.
I don’t typically bill myself as a dancer. It’s part of the business. I like to say that I’m a strong mover, but in this show it definitely pushed me to my limits as a dancer.
Do you and Elder Price have a lot in common?
I see a lot of myself in Elder Price. I’m 27 now, so I have almost a decade on the character, but I identify with his naivete and this feeling of “I can do anything.” The world hasn’t beaten him down yet, so I know what that’s like. Just that idea of personal growth and the challenges in your life that help sculpt and mold your outlook on the world and turn you into a more well-rounded person. Plus, the experience of growing up in a foreign country and being the odd man out, not knowing how to process and handle things that are out of your comfort zone.
I read somewhere that your parents were actually missionaries.
Yeah, so I grew up in Mexico and my parents are Christian missionaries. My parents were part of a team in a remote area in Mexico learning their native language. They didn’t have a written version of the language so they created one and opened a language school to teach it to them. Then they translated the New Testament into their language and we built a church there. We left Mexico when I was 15.
Which of your songs is harder to sing? “You and Me” from Book of Mormon or “My Petersburg” in Anastasia?
“You and Me” for sure. It’s a power song, it’s tough. It sits up in the stratosphere of my vocal range. It’s a lot of fun to sing, but it’s a challenge, especially to be doing it right out of the gate shortly after the show begins. “My Petersburg” was tough because there was a lot of running around, so it took a lot out of me, but they both have their challenges.
Since you’re from Michigan, do you have a lot of family and friends visiting during your run in Detroit?
I have a couple of family members coming, a couple of friends as well. But I actually had a handful of people come and see the show when we were in Midland as well.
What’s it like coming back to some of the theaters and cities that you’ve already performed at?
It’s cool, especially here at the Fisher Theatre. In the dressing rooms there are signatures on all of the vanities and so I already have two signatures in this theater. It’s time to put my third one on the vanity. I have plenty of memories here at the Fisher.
You are on stage pretty much the entire time, how are you managing your energy?
It’s tough, but you figure out ways to manage. When we first started rehearsals, I had breakfast with Kevin Clay who’s playing Elder Price on Broadway right now. He’s been doing Book of Mormon for eight years. He told me that it all boils down to how well you manage yourself over the course of the show and the course of the week, being able to limit how much you’re giving and knowing when to hold back. So over the course of the show, I’ve found those moments where I can just reserve myself. I’ll find moments where no one’s paying attention to me, but I’m still onstage. There’s rarely a moment where I get to just sit and rest and clean my sweat off.
The Book of Mormon is all about testing your faith. Have you had any moments where your own faith has been tested?
Absolutely, this business is tough on you because of the inherently vulnerable nature of what we do. It’s so easy to start questioning yourself, “Am I good at this? Do I deserve this job? Should I be here?” You start to question whether or not you have what it takes to really live up to the standard everyone is expecting of you.
Because this role is so difficult, there will be days where I’m just having a tough time getting through and, especially on days with a bunch of travel throughout the week and a bunch of one-nighters, it can be tough to just be able to do the show when you’re extremely exhausted. But it comes down to having good people in your corner that support and care about you, that you can lean on in moments like that. I think I have that here as well as at home with family, friends, loved ones. Having a good support network really helps.
What should audiences expect when they go to The Book of Mormon at the Fisher Theatre?
Expect the unexpected. Honestly, go into it knowing nothing. I think that’s the best way to experience a show that’s going to make you laugh, make you cry, and scream and gasp. It’s so cleaver and hilarious and exciting. The production design, the costume design and the set up are beautiful. If you’re familiar with South Park you kind of know what you’re in for. You won’t regret it.
The Book of Mormon is now playing at the Fisher Theatre through Sunday, March 19th. For showtimes and tickets, visit BroadwayinDetroit.com.