’Book of Mormon’ Stars Josh Gad, Andrew Rannells Team 'Gutenberg!

Every time his close friend and former co-star Andrew Rannells performs on stage, Josh Gad makes the pilgrimage to see him. After the curtain goes down, Godd will be backstage to greet Rannells with the same refrain: „I miss this,” he’ll say. „I want to be with you. We should find something to do together.

That goal became elusive. There aren’t many shows that fully embrace and support this duo’s amazing gift for singing, dancing and delivering punchlines with zip and zing. Additionally, when the cast first appeared as Joseph Smith’s hapless missionaries preaching the gospel in Uganda, 2011’s „The Book of Mormon” resulted in a once-in-a-decade Broadway sensation. It played to sold-out crowds, won the Tony for Best Musical and catapulted Rannells and Cott to stardom. Each night, the cast will see an audience of celebrities like Bono and Oprah.

„You can’t predict what will turn out to be an event,” says Cott. „But you have to realize that you can’t follow something like 'Book of Mormon’ and have another 'Book of Mormon’ type of success. It’s not possible.”

Ideas for a big reunion like „A funny thing happened on the way to the forum” or „The Producers” were proposed and then dropped. Alex Timbers, the director of “Beetlejuice” and “Here Lies Love,” called them “Gutenberg! The Musical!”

First conceived at the Upright Citizens Brigade and later produced Off-Broadway, the play follows two writers as they try to attract backers to a musical about Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the movable type printing press. The catch is that the middle twins know little about Gutenberg in Google searches. Yet the characters’ „Let’s put on a show!” Brio was irresistible to the cast.

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„It’s a happy story,” Rannells says. „It’s about two guys blindly following a dream. There’s nothing cynical about it, and I wanted to live in that place for two hours every night.

But the journey back to Broadway took unexpected turns. It was March 2020, and a week after the pair read the script and felt good about their chances of running the show, Covid upended everything and shut down the Great White Way for more than a year. Now that they’re finally mounting „Gutenberg!”, they’re doing so against a similarly chaotic backdrop — actors’ and writers’ strikes that have brought Hollywood to a standstill.

„We said, 'We’ll wait until the other half of our industry shuts down before we do this,'” jokes Gad before Rannells chimes in: „We’re not good planners when it comes to global time.”

They can laugh at it all now, and they do – A lot – We often interrupt each other when we meet at a rehearsal space in Ailey Extension. It is there that the duo spend eight hours a day practicing the complex routines and choreography of the production. As I wait for them to break for lunch, dancers from the troupe that gives the place its name stroll by in flesh-colored unitards that leave little to the imagination. It feels as comfortable as marking time at a communal shower. The show opens in late August, less than two months away, a short window Gatt admits, especially since he and Rannells never leave the stage for the entire production.

„I’m not coming back to Broadway, but now I’m coming back with the most physically demanding role I can do on stage,” says Gott, shaking his head as if to briefly review the entire company. “It’s like a two-person version of 'A Chorus Line.’

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„But you nail it,” Rannells interjects confidently.

„I’m going to call twice a week,” Kate teased before asking, „Do theater people have an equivalent of steroids?”

„Yes,” Rannells replies. „They’re called steroids.”

Gott, 42, and Rannells, 45, have great chemistry, but despite the scientific nature of the term, there’s no formula for predicting how two artists are going to click. In the case of „The Book of Mormon,” the show worked so well because Godd and Rannells’ contrasting comedic styles complemented each other. Describing himself as a „ping-pong ball of energy,” Gad is bursting with excitement, chasing the audience’s laughter and ready to do anything to make it explode. He is always there. His jokes build on each other and create small areas of absurdity. Rannells backs off, letting God dominate the conversation until he comes up with timely, precise words. His death is death.

„Having Andrew on 'Mormon’ allowed the show to find a balance,” Gad says between bites of chicken and rice. „I was a bull in a china shop, but Andrew created barriers that kept my energy inside. It changed the dynamic for the better.”

„He makes something, I have something, and it comes together really well,” Rannells says as he pulls a sandwich out of a ziplock bag. „There’s no sense of competition, like we’re trying to one-up each other.”

God thinks the couple’s different body types also help with their comedy. „There’s a familiar legacy of these odd couples who are physically different, whether it’s Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello or Chris Barley and David Spade. When you find the right archetype, it’s a tried-and-true recipe for comedy,” he says. „It’s fun to see the two of us physically together.”

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Although it’s been more than a decade since they last duetted on „The Book of Mormon,” „Gutenberg!” Gad says the pair quickly got back into the same rhythm during rehearsals.

„As for our mockery, we haven’t lost a step,” he says. „We know what makes the other tick. A lot of times the goal for Andrew and I is to make each other laugh.

„It sometimes works for the audience, too,” Rannells notes dryly.

Hearing the audience respond to what they’re doing in real time is so appealing to theater actors, both of whom have enjoyed success in television and film, with God voicing the bubbly snowman in „Frozen” and Rannells in „Girls.” But in between, Rannells returned to Broadway, earning a Tony nomination for „Falsettos” and co-starring in a revival of „The Boys in the Band.”

„There’s nothing like theater,” he says. “When you’re shooting something you experience scenes like you’re in the zone, but you can’t sustain it.

But Cott, despite his longtime ambition to return to the theater, hasn’t been on a stage since ending his run in „The Book of Mormon” in 2012.

„My soul needed this challenge again,” he says. „I’ve got to go back and exercise these muscles because I don’t know if I can do it any more. It’s a fall of hope for me, I’m afraid. But there’s a person I know who’ll catch me if I fall”—God paused for a beat, his brow furrowed— „Not available, so I had to call Andrew.”

„Look what he did there,” Rannells points across the table. „Do you understand the joke?”

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