Sterling Jarvis has the kind of presence that shines. Not only is he a talented and established actor and singer, he is also a very fun person to interview.
Born in Digby, Nova Scotia and raised in Toronto, Sterling Jarvis started performing at a young age. His growth in the industry has led to two Juno Award nominations as well as having the recognizable voice that sings the theme songs for television shows Donkey Kong Country and Zaboomafoo. Ahhh, yes! He’s that voice! His acting credits also include a role on the big screen in The Sentinel with Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria and Kim Basinger. He’s also appeared on Perfect Strangers (CBS), The Eleventh Hour (CTV), The West Wing (NBC), Felicity (Warner Bros.) and much more.
Jarvis is not new to the stage either. He has performed in the Toronto production of Disney’s The Lion King, the CanStage production of Mice and Men and recently in the hit musical We Will Rock You.
Now he’s on tour performing in the nine time Tony Award winning musical, THE BOOK OF MORMON. We had a chance to interview, and have a few laughs, with Jarvis recently as the National Tour rolled into Toronto.
Some people are hesitant to see the show, they don’t know what to expect. What have you experienced?
SJ: Yeah, even the people who are sort of thinking “I don’t know” and they’ve been dragged by their 17 year old, they are the ones who actually come to the stage door and often say “I was expecting something completely different! I am blown away!” And you see them with the show T-shirts really happy that they came. We get that all the time.
Why do you think some people are afraid to see it?
SJ: Well, they see the disclaimers and they hear stories about the words that are used and things that are said. They’re worried that they might feel offended. I get it. It’s not for everyone, but it is for most people, and that’s why the show has lasted for so long.
There are definitely lots of shocking, and shockingly funny, parts in this show!
SJ: Yeah, but the great thing about it is that it’s all within context. It all makes sense and done for a reason. Then when you wrap it up in a really heartwarming story about love, faith, respect, friendship and commitment that’s what the audience leaves with. It’s not gratuitous salty language for the sake of banging you on the head but yes, it’s shocking and really funny too.
The writers obviously did lots of research to put this kind of script together, how much of it is real?
SJ: It’s a universal story about stuff we’re all familiar with like when a friend disappoints you, or you feel like you’re losing someone, and they find their way back. It’s also about having faith and commitment. But they made a real point of making sure that everything they say about the Book of Mormon is absolutely 100% true. That’s why the Mormons are the biggest fans of the show.
WHAT? Did that surprise you?
SJ: When I started there, I kept wondering what the Mormons thought about the show. Then I found out that they are the biggest fans. The show is actually going back to Salt Lake City and people who have performed in this show before me have said, “If you think the crowds now are phenomenal, wait till you get to Salt Lake City. You’ll be a rock star!” It’s because they get it and they understand that we’re not making fun of them. I think Trey Parker once said, “it’s a non-religious person’s love letter to the Mormons”. He said that because he grew up in Colorado so he was around Mormons and have said that Mormons are the nicest people in the world and they fascinate us. I mean, these people are happy all the time so of course it would make sense to create a musical about them. Of course they’d be running around singing songs. That is what’s been so appealing about them, it’s not about making fun of them. It’s finding some humour in religion…and not just theirs but most religions. We actually have a Mormon in our show and she’s the most lovely person. You just want to be around her all the time because she’s just always happy, happy!
So, what drew you to this show knowing it’s controversy?
SJ: When the show came to Toronto previously, I couldn’t get a ticket. I’ve even worked on other Mirvish Productions and I still couldn’t get my hands on tickets. Well, they have this last minute lottery for single tickets and I tried that several times too. But my daughter won a ticket and she was just over the moon excited. She actually said, “Dad, this is my favourite musical. I know you’ve done some great musicals but is my favourite.” Then I kept seeing reviews and I was so intrigued by this production. When the audition opportunities came and I knew I had to try. So it was really cool to be able tell my daughter that I got the part.
What’s the funniest part of the show for you?
SJ: Oh gosh! There’s so many. This is the only show that I’ve done, or seen, where every single song is funny. I love my song of course, I think that’s pretty darn funny. It’s just hilarious moments after moments. People after the show often tell us that they missed a joke because they were still laughing at the previous jokes. Even days after the show people still say they die of laughter! As an artist there are very few projects like this that you’re always thinking “I can’t wait to get to work!” and to be doing something that you love for a long period of time is pretty amazing. Every time I get my paycheque I think “oh yeah, AND I get paid to do this, too!”
Anything you’ve learned about Mormons along this journey that’s surprised you?
SJ: Well, I wasn’t surprised at how positive Mormons are. I guess what has surprised me is how much they love the show and how they support it. They’ve actually advertised in the show’s programme. The first time I saw the show and saw that I thought it was really brilliant of them. But I admit that at first I didn’t realize it was an actual ad placed by the Church. It really fascinated me that they were smart enough to see that we had a built in audience. Not only did they advertise but they often come to the show and will be standing outside and talk to people and they are nice too. They will sometimes approach people as they come out of the show and say “now that you’ve seen the show, would you like to read the book?”
And if there were three words you would use to describe this musical?
SJ: Hilarious. Heartwarming…and really, really smart!
THE BOOK OF MORMON features book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Parker and Stone are the four-time Emmy Award-winning creators of the landmark animated series, “South Park.” The show staring Sterling Jarvis is currently on stage at The Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto until April 16, 2017.
Visit the Mirvish website for more information. …And yes, check out the wildly popular last minute pre-show lottery tickets available at $25 a piece (subject to availability). Lottery happens 2-1/2 hours before the show at the box office.