For "Book of Mormon" cast member and San Diego native Jacob Haren, stepping onto the stage at the San Diego Civic Theatre is a dream come true, one he has dreamed of ever since he was a little kid sitting in the audience.
"I just remember being a little kid, sitting in those seats, and never knowing if I was going to be good enough to be in a show like that, and wanting to be like those performers so badly," Haren told NBC 7.
Haren, born and raised in San Diego's North County, spent most summers performing in Vista's Moonlight Stage Productions. The Westview High School graduate has performed at theaters across the County, including "The Old Globe", but it was a La Jolla Playhouse musical that changed his life: "Up Here".
The musical, written by Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez ("Frozen"), first had its world premiere at the Playhouse in the fall of 2015.
It was during that production that Haren met Bobby Lopez, who approached him about "Book of Mormon", the musical he had co-written music and lyrics several years before.
"Book of Mormon" follows two Mormon missionaries as they travel to Africa to preach the Mormon religion. The musical comedy is written by "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
"On opening night (Bobby) just kind of looked at me and said, 'You know, next thing we gotta do is we gotta get you in for 'Book of Mormon,''" Haren recalled. "But I just kind of thought to myself, yeah sure."
"You just never know if they really mean it or if they're trying to be nice," Haren added.
But two days later, Haren said, he received an email asking him to make a tape for the show. At the time, he did not think much of it.
"In fact, I was making a tape for another show at the time," Haren said. "I made two tapes in between shows one day on a Saturday at La Jolla and I actually didn't spend very much time on the Mormon one because I was it was more likely the other one was going to happen."
A week later, at the Playhouse, Haren told Lopez he had submitted the tape for the show.
"Bobby was at the show and I was saying hi," Haren said. "I was like, hey just so you know I made that tape for Mormon, and he said, yeah, and I hear you're getting an offer."
The news left him so shocked, he was not sure he had not heard him properly, Haren said.
"I actually literally asked him, 'What? what did you say?' and he's like, I hear you're getting an offer and I was like, um, okay," Haren said, completely shocked.
"So for those three days, the whole time was like, was he just saying that, or am I actually going to get it?" Haren recalled.
But three days later, "Book of Mormon" officials offered the San Diego native a spot on the touring production --- an unexpected dream come true.
"Of course, I had grown up seeing national tours and thinking it would be amazing to be in one one day, but especially with the way that 'Mormon' happened, I just had no idea that that's the way it was going to go," Haren said.
The North County resident was no stranger to "Book of Mormon" when he signed the contract for the tour. He was in New York City when the show first came out and still remembers reading Ben Brantley's New York Times review of the show, which called it the "musical of the century".
Haren waited three hours for standing room tickets to see the original Broadway cast.
"I just absolutely loved it," Haren recalled. "I just cried through the whole thing, because it's such a joyous show and its music that's infectious and fills your spirit."
San Diegans heading to see the show will first recognize Haren in the show's opening number, when he belts the word "Hello" as Elder White. He later gets sent to France, and you'll see him again in Uganda.
For Haren, the unique part about doing the show each night is the play's combination of well-known hits (thanks in large part to the show's commercial success) and the message it sends.
"I feel like I really am making a small difference every night," Haren said. "It's a beautiful story about faith and I think of it as being a gigantic discussion on so many important issues."
Haren, with the show for nearly two years now, will for the first time perform at the Civic Theater this week. The tour that came to San Diego the past two years has since gone to Australia; this will be the first time this particular touring production will be stopping in San Diego.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Haren, who will play his last eight shows with the tour in San Diego before departing.
"I have no idea what I'm even going to feel when I walk into that theater today," Haren said on Tuesday, before the first performance.
It's a surreal experience, Haren said, but in many ways, it feels like just another show he will be performing in San Diego, one of many he has performed in this city over the years.
"I have the same family and friends coming to see me that saw me in The Ugly Duckling in "Honk," the youth production I did when I was 11," Haren said. "I think that is really cool because those experiences I had as a child as just as important as the 'Book of Mormon.'"
As a young boy growing up in San Diego, Haren said, he did not make it out to New York City to see a show until he was 21 years old.
The Civic Theater was his Broadway, and the theater holds a special place in his heart.
"I feel like I'm on Broadway at this theater," Haren said. "It almost might be a bigger deal to me doing this tour in San Diego than if I were to ever make my Broadway debut one day."
"Book of Mormon" runs through July 30 at the San Diego Civic Theater. To purchase tickets, click here.