'Book of Mormon' fans gather in NY for free show
NEW YORK—Lauren Bowling will be flying in all the way from Atlanta. Billy Peterson will be getting up at 3 a.m. to catch a train into the city. Asher Bailey made sure he'd be able to skip work -- he invited his boss.
All three have secured what must be the Broadway equivalent of the Golden Ticket tucked in a Wonka Bar: a free pair of seats to the hit musical "The Book of Mormon."
Producers of the show are celebrating its one-year anniversary on Wednesday by handing out free seats to a special matinee performance for winners of a special lottery.
"I'm so excited about this show, you have no idea," said Peterson, 34, who lives in Lake Placid, N.Y., and will have to drive to Albany in the wee hours to catch a train to Manhattan's Penn Station.
Each lottery winner gets two seats, and Peterson has invited his estranged brother, whom he hasn't seen since 1999.
"I don't know what we'll do, but we'll have fun," he said.
Bowling, a 25-year-old aspiring writer, will be traveling even further than upstate New York. She'll be coming from Birmingham, Ala., where she just relocated after several years living in New York. She figures she tried to get into see "The Book of Mormon" 10 times.
"I just left New York, and then three weeks later I get an email saying that I finally got into the show," Bowling said with a laugh. "That's just the way life works."
She is taking her mother, and the two will fly back after dinner in the city.
The wildly popular musical is one of the hardest tickets to get even a year after opening, and last week it boasted an average ticket price of $183, with premium seats going as high as $477.
Daily lotteries for a small number of $32 tickets have attracted as many as 600 people at some performances outside the 1,066-seat Eugene O'Neill Theatre. The special free matinee attracted plenty of attention: From March to May, when the sweepstakes was open, about 10,000 fans entered.
Jessica Harrop had Wednesday's fan performance date circled on her calendar even before she landed tickets. The 26-year-old TV producer, who specializes in science programs, had tried 16 times previously to win lottery tickets.
"It was getting frustrating," she said. "I sort of told myself I was going to stop trying and just spend the money and buy tickets soon. This was kind of the last shot at getting cheap tickets."
Her boss nicely gave her the day off, and she invited as her guest her younger sister, who is coming up from Washington, D.C. It just so happens that Harrop had just given her sister the cast album from the show. Now, little sis gets to see it live.
Bailey is an actor and nanny who, with his husband, tried to land tickets to see the show about 50 times.
"My husband and I more or less refer to it as `Let's-go-lose-the-lottery-and-have-dinner,'" he joked. "We're very excited to have finally won something."
It was actually Bailey's husband, a teacher, who learned by email that he'd won a pair of seats to "The Book of Mormon" but wasn't sure he'd be able to take the time off from work.
"I was thinking of threatening divorce," Bailey said laughing.
Then Bailey also won, meaning the couple has a wealth of seats.
"We have four tickets, so we're bringing two of our best friends, one of which happens to be my boss, which helped me get out of work," he said.
The musical is the brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of "South Park," and Robert Lopez, who co-wrote "Avenue Q." It is an offensive yet good-natured look at two missionaries who arrive in Uganda and get way more than they bargained for, including gun-toting warlords.
But Wednesday's show marks the final one for one of the quartet of stars who have led the show over the past year: Josh Gad, who earned a Tony nomination as the awkward missionary Elder Cunningham, is leaving.
The atmosphere on Wednesday is sure to be electric. But after all the buzz and the dashed hopes at the lottery, might some ticket winners now actually find the show to be a let-down?
"I would be flabbergasted if I showed up and hated it," said Bailey. "I just don't think that's going to happen. Regardless, it's free theater. You can't argue with free theater."
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