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Q&A: Donell James Foreman of ‘The Book of Mormon’

Category Actor Spotlight

|by Jeryl Brunner |


Donell James Foreman reveals why it was so meaningful when Broadway beckoned

Donell James Foreman made his Broadway debut in The Book of Mormon playing Gotswana (the doctor) in the ensemble. The long-running musical features music, lyrics and a book by South Park creators Matt Stone, Trey Parker and Robert Lopez (Frozen, Avenue Q, Coco). The show about well-meaning, but misguided, Mormon missionaries trying to indoctrinate people in Africa, won nine Tony awards including Best Musical. Foreman recently had his first solo concert, The Dirty Thirty Tour, at Feinstein’s/54 Below. He sang new interpretations of music from pop icons including Prince, Janet Jackson, George Michael, Madonna, Luther Vandross and Lady Gaga.

Donell James Foreman of ‘The Book of Mormon’ (Photo: Feinstein’s/54 Below)

Donell James Foreman of ‘The Book of Mormon’ (Photo: Feinstein’s/54 Below)

When did you first really become interested in musical theater? 
Donell James Foreman:
One day I heard my friend playing the Rent cast recording. But at that point I didn’t know about cast recordings. I asked, “Is this a band?” He said, “It’s a show.” I thought, “Oh, It’s a show with rock and pop music.” I was obsessed with Rent for a good two years before I ever saw it. I think every theater person has been obsessed with Rent at some point in their life. 

I’m from Albany, New York, but my grandmother lives in Manhattan. And when I became obsessed with Rent, she took me for my birthday. It was the first musical I ever saw and I was completely enamored. I thought, my God this is what I had listened to so long! Rent really sparked my love for theater. It also made me realize that Broadway can be a career. And the full circle moment is that I’m now in Book of Mormon with two people who were in that cast. I brought my Playbill to the theater. I’m a dork. I said, “I just have to tell you. You were in the first Broadway show that I ever saw. And I cannot believe that I am getting to perform alongside you every night.” 

What do you adore about being in The Book of Mormon
Donell James Foreman:
l love that the show shocks people. My humor is very similar. When I was little I used to sneak and watch South Park when I wasn’t supposed to be watching. I love that I get to be a part of that. Also, the show has heart. It’s funny. It moves people. I love telling the story. 

Do you remember the circumstances when you heard you were cast in The Book of Mormon on Broadway? 
Donell James Foreman:
I was doing The Book of Mormon in Australia and had to leave the show and go home because my father was dying. While I was taking care of him I found out that I was going to be in the Broadway show. I’m just so thankful that I got to share that with him while we had that time together. He was so excited. So when I perform in The Book of Mormon I think of honoring him. He knew it was my dream. 

Did he ever get to see you perform in the show? 
Donell James Foreman:
He saw me do the show but not this incarnation. A few years ago I filled in for about five weeks as a vacation swing. He came to see one of those shows. It was the first time he had ever seen a Broadway show. I didn’t know. I just assumed that he had seen shows. He loved the show. And then when he found out I was going to be taking over full time, he was so happy.

What inspired you to do your recent show The Dirty Thirty Tour at Feinstein’s/54 Below?
Donell James Foreman:
Between my 30th birthday and my Broadway debut there is so much to celebrate. The Dirty Thirty Tour is a pop music concert with Madonna and Janet Jackson songs. It explores the themes of love, loss, lust and longing. The show is told through songs that we have always heard but I’m singing them in a different way and thinking of the messages of the songs. As an actor I always approach songs lyrically and think of the story.

What do you love to do when you are not working? 
Donell James Foreman:
I cook. When I was in Australia, there were so many Asian markets and I really got into Thai food and international Asian flavors.  I never bought fish oil before. I would make Pad Thai, green and red curry, fried rice. In fact, while I was in Australia, I went on vacation to Thailand, took a cooking class and made all kinds of things. 

How do you like spending your free time in New York City? 
Donell James Foreman:
I love going to parks and museums. I can just walk around a museum for hours, like the Museum of Natural History, which is so massive. There are still probably parts that I’ve never seen, but I just love it. Going there or to the Guggenheim or MoMA, I feel in the cultural center. I am influenced by art and music.  I love to experience artists who I have never heard of before. I want to know everything about everything.

When did you know you could sing? 
Donell James Foreman:
When I was 12 I started doing theater in Albany. I remember going to my first audition and singing “It’s A Hard Knock Life” from Annie because it was the song that we sang in choir that year and the only sheet music I had. I didn’t know anything about singing. I would just sing along to TV and music in the house.

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