Dave Thomas Brown is on a mission… to bring religion to the people of Uganda! Or maybe just to the audience in the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York City, where he has stepped into the lead role as Elder Price in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.”
Brown, a graduate of both UNCSA’s high school and undergraduate Drama programs, is having a blast in what he calls a dream role.
“Elder Price has been my dream role ever since I saw the show with the original cast before it opened. We get to see a character arc from alpha, top of the class, to his tremendous fall from grace.”
“The Book of Mormon” follows the trials and tribulations of missionaries who travel to Africa. Elder Price struggles with his ambition and expectations as he tries to win over the locals.
Brown has completed more than 500 shows, and continues to learn more about his character each time the curtain closes.
“The more I perform the role, the more I find. There’s no more fear about whether I understand the role or not, or if I’m going to miss a line or miss the light,” he says. “That allows me to make microscopic changes, things that make the role more three dimensional. It’s like slowly chipping away at a sculpture out of a piece of marble until it’s something that looks genuinely human.”
By now, the stage has long been a comfortable place for Brown, who made his Broadway debut in the cast of “American Psycho” in 2016 and understudied for the lead role of Patrick Bateman.
He has also starred in off-Broadway hits like “Heathers: The Musical” and “The Legend of Georgia McBride”—the latter of which garnered him a Clive Barnes Award for Theatre in January 2016.
“Winning that award was a genuine honor and surprise, and it was so lovely for it to be in recognition of a play that meant so much to me, and a role that was truly once in a lifetime,” says Brown.
The star role of a struggling Elvis impersonator-turned-drag-queen was a departure for Brown, in a performance the New York Times called “flawless.”
“‘Georgia McBride’ was a tough role,” he says. “Playing a straight man who becomes a legendary Floridian drag queen tested my physical and mental abilities, but in the end it paid off in such a tremendous way.” He likens the experience to being given a master class during each performance, and it’s clear that each role leaves a lasting mark on him.
As a newly minted UNCSA graduate, Brown moved immediately to New York City and started auditioning, reading, and attending plays—anything he could do to stay engaged with theatre.
Sometimes it felt slow and I would think, ‘Am I actually doing anything worthwhile? Will I catch a break?’ But having a community of different places to do short plays or readings helped to maintain and cultivate my craft.Dave Thomas Brown
He has worked with many theatre companies, including the Ensemble Studio Theater, Abingdon Theatre Company, The Flea and Calliope, but it is his connection with a fellow UNCSA alumnus that he credits with nudging him in the right direction.
“I believe that Sean Murray (’89), who is the artistic director of Cygnet Theater in San Diego, kickstarted the career I am blessed to have now,” says Brown. “He cast me and three other alumni in ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ and the following year I did ‘Spring Awakening’ with him.”
Murray isn’t the only UNCSA connection that Brown recalls with gratitude. His mentor in the School of Drama, Gerald Freedman, supported him throughout his years in school. “He instilled his legendary comedy technique work in me and it’s something that I use in every show; in every audition.”
During a rehearsal of “Saint Joan,” Brown recalls that he reached an impasse with his teacher over his acting in a particular scene.
“I just could not comprehend what he wanted me to be doing in the scene,” says Brown. “He pushed me in the chest up against a wall and, startled and angry, I pushed him back! ‘Now that’s what the scene is about,’ he told me with a smile. It was exactly what I needed and I think about that moment often with such fondness.”
Once I went through that incredibly formative first year of discovery, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. And I spent the next four years finding out who I really was as an actor and as a person.Dave Thomas Brown
Intensive Arts, UNCSA’s annual two-week period of specialized arts courses, inspired Brown to explore theatre from a place besides the stage.
“I had never written a play before, but I wrote three short plays during my Intensive Arts years, and I was able to perform them with lights, actors and a supportive audience,” Brown recalls.
Experiences like Intensive Arts gave Brown a strong foundation, but it is his perseverance that has led him to achieve success. “You have to knock on doors, see theatre, embrace slow times, build a community for yourself and when you get into an audition, prepare thoroughly and breathe.”
Wise words from someone who knocked on a Broadway stage door (or in the case of “The Book of Mormon,” rang a doorbell) and crossed the threshold.
Original publish date: May 19, 2016
Story last updated: December 13, 2019