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The Book of Mormon’s actor loves show — and Saranac root beer

Tennille-Lynn Millo, Special to the Daily Sentinel
Posted 9/24/22

Sam Nackman is Elder Cunningham. The supporting actor for Broadway Theatre League of Utica’s season opener, The Book of Mormon, Nackman has found a kindred spirit on the road.

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The Book of Mormon’s actor loves show — and Saranac root beer

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UTICA — Sam Nackman is Elder Cunningham. The supporting actor for Broadway Theatre League of Utica’s season opener, The Book of Mormon, Nackman has found a kindred spirit on the road and within the quirky character he plays.

“Elder is not your typical Mormon. Unlike the other Mormon boys who are clean, precise, organized, and by the books, Cunningham just isn’t that, but it’s not for a lack of trying. It’s hard for Cunningham to reign himself in because of his big heart and excessive excitement about life.”

While Nackman often praises Elder as the epitome of a loveable goofball, he cannot
ignore the similarities between the two.

“Over the course of the rehearsal and tech process, I’ve realized that — minus the social awkwardness — I am Elder to a tee. I’m not the most organized or put-together, but I try my best. I tend to get really excited. I like having fun and spending time with people I love, and sometimes that gets in the way of my ability to focus.”

Originally from Dick Hills, Long Island, Nackman fell in love with acting when he was in high school. “I have to give credit to my theater director and teacher, Ms. Levolo. She was more than a teacher; she was my inspiration. Even though we were high schoolers she gave us dense material to study, which she based on us as a whole. She brought in professional people and held workshops. After that, I knew there was nothing more that I wanted to do with my life. So I went for it.”

Nackman enrolled in Marymount Manhattan College where he immersed himself in musical theater. One year post graduation he landed his audition and received the role of Elder Cunningham.

“I first auditioned for this role back in 2018. It was a closed audition for those with representation, which I did not have, but my friends urged me to show up anyway. So I stood outside Pearl Studio and waited for one of the casting agents to come out. As one woman did, I introduced myself and asked for an opportunity to read for the part. The woman looked me up and down and let me in. While I didn’t get the part, it was one of the gutsiest things I ever did.”

Nackman’s boldness paid off as he returned to audition for Elder two years later and landed the role, this time without using the back door.

“When I got the call I was ecstatic. This was a dream come true for me. It’s been such an honor to come to work every day and perform beside an incredible group of people, both in cast and crew. It’s mind-blowing that I’m here getting to perform such a hilarious and heartwarming show for everyone.”

Since Utica is the launching point for The Book of Mormon tour, Nackman has little to compare in regard to sights and food. However, there’s one area favorite that Nackman looks forward to bringing home.

“The root beer! We all went to this local Irish Pub, Griffins, and they served us this locally made root beer. I am not a root beer person, but this was so delicious and creamy that I had to go back and have another. I’m obsessed with it,” he said.

Spending hours rehearsing each day can become tiresome, but Nackman credits the cast and crew for keeping him on his toes.

“It’s been an adjustment leaving my apartment in Brooklyn and my partner to move into a hotel. However, being here with these people makes me feel like I’m at summer camp. The whole team is dynamic, which makes coming to work each day a lot of fun. This team also brings a creative drive that makes you want to do better.”

Wanting to do better is an ironic statement from Nackman, as it’s precisely what his character strives to do throughout the play. It also leads to a curious question: Is The Book of Mormon about Mormonism and religion or about the struggles we hold onto?

“The show is about religion, specifically Mormonism, but as much as the show pokes fun, it’s actually a pro-faith show that handles religion with care. I’m Jewish so the connection to the struggle between faith and progress is a big thing for me and one of the reasons I relate to The Book of Mormon. There’s a song in the show whose lyrics say ‘the only thing that matters is tomorrow because who cares when we’re dead,’ which is a very faith-forward ideal through a Jewish lens. The play is designed to leave you wondering about your faith and why faith is important when it comes to making this world a better place.”

That ideal is something Nackman hopes to take away from the tour.

“I’m working to cherish every moment of what I’m doing. I tend to get so caught up in the moment that I don’t think about what I’m experiencing while it’s happening. I’m learning that I need to savor those moments and experience them as openly as possible. One day I’m going to blink and this is all going to be over.”

As the show closes in, and Nackman prepares to take the stage for his first national tour, he’s reminded of what it took to get here and what it will take to remain.

“Live theater is a different beast. There’s this special chemistry that happens when you’re in the same room as your audience. There’s a consecutive nature that allows things to happen in a designed order, while feeding off the audience’s energy, and that’s an incredible feat. My dream is to be able to do shows like this and perform in theater for the rest of my life. I want to enjoy this part of my life with my family and friends, which is why I feel like my dream has already come true.”

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