By Bradley Rohlf
“This is my dream come true,” says actor Zach Erhardt, who grew up in St. Louis, and is currently a part of the national touring production of “The Book Of Mormon.” He plays Elder Smith in the ensemble.
Zach has been on tour for about nine months, and we caught up with him one morning while he was in Columbus, Ohio, to talk about life on tour and his path to where he is now.
“The Book of Mormon” is at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis from May 29 to June 3.
After graduating from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music in spring 2017, Erhardt appeared in The Muny’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” last summer.
He then moved to New York to pursue more work. When he received the offer to join the tour, he only had a week before his contract started.
“I had to pack up the life I had just started in New York and figure out how to live out of two suitcases,” he said.
He met up with the production in Salt Lake City, where they happened to be at the time, and spent three weeks rehearsing with the dance captain before taking the stage.
“It is a well-oiled machine. They know exactly how to drop people right into it.”
Those first weeks for Erhardt were a whirlwind intensive.
“I would rehearse, then I would come back to my hotel and I would write everything out, and I would rehearse it again, and again, and again, and then do it all – the same thing the next day.”
When asked about the repetition, he said: “[After] the first few weeks, once the stress is starting to die down, it’s sort of a routine. I never get tired of doing this show.”
With the primary rehearsal process over, Erhardt is responsible for his own schedule.
“As long as I am in the theater by our call time, that’s completely on me. The rest of my day I get to make up sort of as I go.”
By nature, the tour puts him in cities all over the country,
“Personally, this tour is also like a food tour of the United States for me.”
He loves to try new local spots wherever they stop. The tour recently had a string of shows in the south, and Zach was particularly excited about all the comfort food. The most recent stop was in South Carolina.
“I got this same sandwich every day — it was grilled cheese with apples and turkey. It was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.”
He talked about some challenges of life on tour.
“Developing my own schedule was a little difficult, because I came straight out of college basically and so my schedule had always been laid out in front of me. It takes some stamina to live out of a suitcase.”
But he still loves every bit of it, and gets plenty of support from fellow cast members.
“I’m learning as I go some tips and tricks of how to survive better on the road.”
He also appreciates the diversity of experience the cast has. Some have been with the tour for five years, and some a few months.
“They come from all over the place,” he said.
Some are eight-show-a-week Broadway veterans, one is a mother sending her kid to college, and someone was a broadcast journalism major, but after doing a show, they knew someone who recommended them when tour auditions came around.
“It’s kind of crazy to hear people’s backgrounds like that.”
Erhardt’s career path looks a little more typical on the surface. He performed a few summers as a Muny Teen, acted in high school productions, and was a part of Stages St. Louis’ TeamSTAGES a cappella group.
In addition, he took courses and performed at COCA, where he studied with Phil Woodmore, who is still his voice teacher. He won the Arts for Life Best Youth Musical Performance Award as Usnavi in “In the Heights” at COCA in 2013.
He then studied musical theatre performance at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), which a fellow ensemble member at The Muny recommended to him when he was a teen.
But performance wasn’t always the plan. In high school, he was thinking about pursuing a more business and entrepreneurial track in college.
“I wasn’t actually sure that I wanted to do musical theatre as a career.”
Erhardt did not apply to multiple performance programs. He said he made a bargain with himself that if he got into CCM, he would go for it. Out of approximately 1,000 applicants, he was accepted as one of 23 who started in his musical theatre performance class.
“I got the call that I made it and never looked back.”
“The Book of Mormon” tour will be in Cincinnati later this summer, where former professors will have the opportunity to see him.
“Luckily, they haven’t tried to get me to get them tickets yet.”
Coming home to St. Louis, I asked if he was looking forward to any specific food.
“As stereotypical of an answer as it is, an Imo’s pizza in going to treat me right.”
He is excited to share the local cuisine with the cast.
“I’m going to order like five of them just to put back stage.”
Zach really does love St. Louis.
“The Fox is a really special theater to me. It’s where I saw ‘The Book of Mormon’ for the first time with my dad. It’s a real full-circle emotional moment for me to be coming back to a home town that I love so much, and to see people that I have such fond feelings for.”
When asked about his career trajectory, he characterized it as a “This led to that, led to this, let to that” situation.
“This is a business of networking. Just get out and take classes and get involved and do as much as you can,” he advised.