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January 12, 2013 Comments Off on Review: “The Book of Mormon” Will Put A Big Grin On Your Face Views: 1651 #Theater and Stage, Arts & Entertainment, Stage

Review: “The Book of Mormon” Will Put A Big Grin On Your Face

Gavin Creel, Derrick WilliamsTHE BOOK OF MORMON North American Tour(c) Joan Marcus, 2012

Gavin Creel, Derrick Williams
THE BOOK OF MORMON North American Tour
(c) Joan Marcus, 2012. Note: Gavin Creel has been replaced by Mark Evans in the role of Elder Price for the American National Tour while Mr. Creel heads to London for the West End production.


Review: “The Book of Mormon” with Book, Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker. Choreography by Casey Nicholaw. With Mark Evans, Christopher John O’Neill, Samantha Marie Ware, Grey Henson and Kevin Mambo. Now through January 20, 2013 at The Paramount Theater.

It seems a bit unnecessary to review the hottest ticket in town, or, for that matter, the country. The blockbuster Broadway musical, “The Book of Mormon” won 9 Tony Awards and continues to play to SRO houses in New York and it’s selling out at all the stops on its first national tour and packing them in at its Chicago sit down engagement and everyone and their cousin would sell Grandma to get a hold of a ticket. It’s the Hot Show Du Jour and everyone wants to grab a bite of it while it’s still  hot, fresh and tasty. And, it’s not surprising…”The Book of Mormon” comes with incredible “Cool Cred”. It’s the first theater piece from those naughty “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and it’s their usual naughty take on a taboo subject, in this case, Mormons. It’s also the work of Robert Lopez, one of the mastermind creators of a past hot show, “Avenue Q”. It’s a ribald romp featuring some super topical material and it’s all told with a sense of great cheeky fun. It’s almost impossible not to have a great time seeing this show and I have to admit, I had a big goofy grin on my face during a large chunk of the performance.

Yes, it is a great deal of cheeky fun….but, it should also be noted that “The Book of Mormon” is NOT going to go down in the annals of musical theater as one of the most brilliantly constructed shows in the history of the genre. For the most part, the music isn’t particularly strong, and is sadly typical of what we’ve come to except from contemporary Broadway composers…generic tunes propelled by hopefully witty lyrics that propel the plot. The days of leaving a Broadway musical humming the score are mostly gone. (What is also puzzling is that Parker/Stone’s “South Park” movie actually has a very strong musical score, far superior to “TBOM” which might be contributable to the presence of the film’s composer Mark Shaiman, also a Tony winner for “Hairspray” who not longer works with Parker and Stone.) And, the book of “The Book of Mormon” shouldn’t be examined too closely because it’s plagued with a general lack of action and a strong sense that this is a half hour episode of “South Park” strung out for two and a half hours. It’s cute, but there’s really not much dramatic tension or overall structure…it just bounces along from one cute over produced number to another and very much in the vein of the majority of modern Broadway musicals. There’s not much “there” actually THERE on close examination.

That being said, “The Book of Mormon” does manage to be a hugely entertaining evening solely based on the charm and the wit of the characters and the situations portrayed. The two lead characters are enormously engaging and fun and the writers have surrounded them with plenty of interesting and quirky characters and simple plot devices to make for a grin filled entertainment. It’s also largely helped by a sense of topicality…Mormons are a hot topic subject for discussion and placing a bunch of naive, white bread Mormon youth into the dark heart of contemporary Africa is a clever idea. And, the very “naughtiness” of the subject material and how it’s handled in a typically naughty Parker/Stone way is the chief hallmark of “TBOM”. The audacity of it all, propels the entire performance. It’s hard not to grin at production numbers that include giving God the finger, or advising young Mormons to swallow all their difficult feelings, or particularly at the musical’s version of “Spooky Mormon Hell”. It’s a great deal of cheeky fun for those of the liberal persuasion.

The book isn’t that strong, largely due to the fact there really isn’t that much plot in TBOM. There’s a villain, a nasty local warlord named General Butt Fucking Naked but he isn’t really given that much to do…he doesn’t even warrant his own song! There’s a very vague love interest, a young African woman named Nabulungi but the writers never really commit to hooking her up with either one of the two Mormon missionaries. The show is largely about those two young men, the overly confident “Golden Boy” Mormon, Elder Price and his goofy, chubby, loser of a sidekick, Elder Cunningham and it never strays too far from their through lines. Price, horrified that he didn’t get sent to Orlando, Florida for his mission and paired up with a nerd like Cunningham, of course loses his faith, regains it, only to lose it again before learning his valuable lesson. The more comedic Elder Cunningham starts out as the lovable loser who manages to prove himself through the course of the show, largely by lying and creating his own version of the Book of Mormon featuring characters from Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Star Trek. The charm and glee of these two characters are the heart and soul of “The Book of Mormon” and largely why the show works. You fall so deeply in love with Price and Cunningham, that nothing else really matters.

The roles are written with great humor but the success of the show rests on the shoulders of the actors PLAYING those roles, and both Mark Evans as Elder Price and Christopher John O’Neill as Elder Cunningham are just superb at getting the job done. The roles are easy to love, but the performances of these two actors really clinch the deal and it’s solely based on their skills as actors and comedians and their charismatic performances. It’s all the more remarkable due to the fact that both these young actors just assumed these roles, taking over for Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner who left to headline the West End production soon to open in London. Both young actors have the potential to become big stars on their own.

They are ably backed by a terrific supporting cast including Samantha Marie Ware as Nabulungi; Kevin Mambo as her cautious father Mafala Hatimbi (though he seems far too young to play her father) and Grey Henson as the deeply closeted head of the Mormon missionaries, Elder McKinley. The design work, much of it Tony winning or nominated, is terrific and the entire production is lushly produced and well worth the price of a ticket. There is a lot of talent on display in “The Book of Mormon” and it’s superbly showcased.

Who’s this NOT for? Well, obviously most current members of the Church of Latter Day Saints will not be amused, though in actuality, it’s not as nasty or mean spirited towards the Mormons as you would expect. And, for folks of a religious and conservative nature, it is also obviously not the ideal musical entertainment choice you could make. It might not also be a show for all liberal folks either…I have to admit that certain aspects in the way the Africans were portrayed did bother me a bit. The district and village in Uganda where the action of “TBOM” is centered is supposed to be very remote, yet it’s not very believable that these villagers are so unworldly that they aren’t aware of cell phones or any pop culture. Despite the fact that many of the native characters wear American sports teams apparel, no one is apparently aware of the existence of Star Wars. Their naivete seems more appropriate for show set thirty or forty years ago, and not for a show that is supposed to be contemporary; it’s a bit far fetched. And, the ultra grim humor that involves jokes about the AIDS crisis in Africa, might not be amusing to everyone. Probably a good rule of thumb for the potential audience for “The Book of Mormon” would be tolerance for Parker/Stone’s “South Park”. If you can handle Cartman and his sociopathic tendencies or the antics of singing blobs of poo and anthropomorphic bath towels prone to overuse of stimulants, then you can handle most of “The Book of Mormon”.

The Seattle run of “The Book of Mormon” is basically sold out, (though you might check the STG website for any random tickets) but they also have a daily lottery during the run of the show for $25 tickets. Find out more about the lottery, here. 


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