Toronto prepares for theatre superfans in 2013
In this publicity image, Andrew Rannells, centre, performs with an ensemble cast in "The Book of Mormon" at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York. (AP Photo/Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Joan Marcus, File)
Published Tuesday, December 4, 2012 7:07AM EST
TORONTO -- Toronto may be bombarded by a BOM Squad in 2013.
That's the name for fervent fans of the runaway hit Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," which Mirvish Productions is bringing to the city in April.
New York University Tisch drama student Jesse J.H. Eisenberg knows all about the fandom. After all, he's seen the religious satire 11 times (and counting) on the Great White Way.
He's a featherweight, though, compared to some of his fellow BOM Squad members.
"I'm one of the lightest of these superfans," the 19-year-old says by phone from New York. "I know someone who's seen 'Book of Mormon' 25 times.
"There's this whole regime of 'Book of Mormon' fandom all over Tumblr, made of up people who've seen the show 25, 30, 50, 100 times. That's a little too much for me."
Yet such superfandom is common in the theatre world, with extremely loyal show followers ranging from the Mizzies ("Les Miserables" lovers) to Rentheads ("Rent" enthusiasts) and Idiots ("American Idiot" fiends).
"They're Idiots, you know -- they're 'American Idiot' Idiots, and they come back over and over again," says "American Idiot" director and co-writer Michael Mayer.
"By the time we closed on Broadway after a year, there were people who'd seen the show 50 or 60 times. It was incredible."
Theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber -- who debuts "The Wizard of Oz" in Toronto later this month -- has seen die-hard devotees at several of his shows, including the recent U.K. arena tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"We had 24 dates -- there were half a dozen people who saw all 24 of them," he says.
"I said to one of these girls who was an absolute groupie for the thing, 'I mean, surely there must be something else in life, you know.' 'Oh no, you don't understand, this is the best rock arena production I've ever seen.' 'Well, thank you, I'm glad."'
"But I just can't understand these people who've sort of seen 'Les Miz' or 'Phantom' some 340 times. It strikes me that there's something a bit wrong somewhere," Lloyd Webber, who created "The Phantom of the Opera" musical, adds with a laugh.
"One or two of these people have seen 'Phantom' more than I have."
"In the Heights" has also had patrons see the show "over and over again," says creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
He figures they returned because "there was always something special coming from the audience or happening backstage that make that performance unique."
"There are people who come when an understudy is in," says Miranda. "There are people who check the (Broadway message) board and they go, 'Oh my gosh, what a weird lineup, three people are sick, I've got to see this version,' because that's the magic of live theatre."
"When you have a beautiful experience in the theatre, you want to go back, because it'll never be the same way twice," echoes Megan Hilty, star of TV's "Smash" who saw many superfans when she starred in "Wicked."
"It's not like seeing a movie over and over again; you're going to have a different experience every time. So I totally understand the repeaters."
Some show junkies also seem to feel a strong connection to the material, surmises Chilina Kennedy, who starred in the Stratford Festival's production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" that had a following on Broadway earlier this year.
"I feel like it's a piece of art that they really love," she says. "It's like going to see a painting every day or listening to an album once a day."
In some cases, these enthusiasts also like to dress up as characters from the shows. "The Book of Mormon," for instance, often sees audience members wearing missionary suits.
And when "Les Miserables" ran at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre from 1989-'90, they had "little Gavroches see it 40 times ... with a beret," recalls producer David Mirvish.
"What's really interesting is if you talk to some of these people, they're actually nice, normal, sweet people who just have found something in the show that has hit a note with them," says Mirvish, who has also seen superfans at his productions of "Mamma Mia," "The Lion King," "We Will Rock You" and "Spring Awakening."
"But musicals are really the ones that seem to move people this way, and they keep finding something new by going over and over."
Eisenberg's passion for "The Book of Mormon" -- winner of nine 2011 Tony Awards -- began last year when his parents bought him a ticket for his birthday (they could only track down one seat because the show was so popular).
The Chicago native instantly fell in love, and when he heard the show had standing-room-only tickets for $27, he couldn't resist returning with his roommates who hadn't seen it yet. And then with his friends. And then with school mates -- and so on.
"I obviously love the show but I'm in school for theatre, and I'm studying acting and I love playwriting and I love writing in general, really, and I love music so ... I think I see something different in 'The Book of Mormon' every time I go see the show," he says.
"Essentially it's a really, really great source of inspiration for writing. Everyone in the cast is really fantastic."
Eisenberg also enjoys going with "Book of Mormon" newbies and seeing their reactions to the irreverent material that comes from "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
Plus, he's become close friends with other BOM Squad members, some of whom have inside information about the show. And he gets to talk to the cast members at the stage door.
Eisenberg figures he'll continue seeing the show about once a month until his obsession dries up.
"It's really just a thing that I do for recreation, it doesn't really run my life although I talk about it a lot because I see the shows so much," he says.
"So I guess in that way people in my school kind of associate me with that show, which is a little weird. Not that I didn't bring it on myself."
And though some of his friends think he's crazy, Eisenberg finds solace in knowing that Tony Award winners Steve Kazee ("Once") and Nikki M. James ("The Book of Mormon") were self-confessed Rentheads before they hit the big time.
"That makes me feel a lot better about seeing 'Book of Mormon' that many times," he says with a laugh.