Theatre Review: Book of Mormon Might Shock, But Absolutely Worth It
As a child, for a cornucopia of reasons, my mother forbade me from watching South Park. I grew up quite religious, but snuck it some anyway. In my brief glimpses of it as a child and slightly more frequently as an adult, I’ve learned it centers on parody—nothing remains safe from the creators of that show. Thus, who could expect anything else from Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s, along with Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez’s, 9 Tony Award winning musical, Book of Mormon?
The show centers on two young missionaries: Elder Price, the All-American, good-looking kid who wants to change the world for the Church, and Elder Cunningham, the kind of awkward, friendless kid with both a sci-fi and lying habit. These two are paired together for their two year mission trip with an assignment in Uganda. Upon arriving to the very different land and meeting the villagers who endure grave hardships like AIDS, famine, and female genital mutilation, the two realize they cannot instantaneously change the people’s lives through religion. Stress and doubt inherent in the situation cause Elder Price to panic about his ability to accomplish something incredible and Elder Cunningham to worry because he may lose his new friend and have to lead rather than follow.
Book of Mormon parodies everything. It jokes about religion, interpretations, people, cultures, life, and musicals. The show maintains a campy, 1950s feel with its tributes to the Golden Age of Broadway in both music and choreography, yet feels completely contemporary. It looks like a type of show we do not see very often anymore. As for the show itself: wow…just wow. After a slew of poor productions travelling through town, it feels so refreshing to see a good National Tour.
Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw (choreographer for Spamalot) co-direct a stellar production with impeccable timing. No detail seems too small in this show. Transitions occur with impressive haste, making them practically unnoticeable, especially for the fantastical “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” Nicholaw’s classic choreography provides a timeless quality to this production, which is aided by the extensive buffet of design in this tour.
Scott Pask’s countless sets constantly surprise and astound with the details. Hell looks great. (How often do we get to write that?) Ann Roth’s wide array of costumes contribute so much character to the show from the Mormon missionaries, to the Ugandan villagers, to Darth Vader, the devil, and Jesus. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting and Brain Ronan’s sound design (for which they both won a Tony Award) keep the show bright, peppy, and on point. This show is a real spectacle with amazingly on-point music thanks to music director and conductor Justin Mendoza.
The ensemble performs with exceptional energy and passion. We see sweat cascading down them after most numbers, but the work they put into this tour really shows, and they hold nothing back. Mark Evans (Elder Price) and Christopher John O’Neill (Elder Cunningham) possess a great chemistry. Alexandra Ncube plays Nabulungi, the young girl who gathers the villagers to hear the missionaries, with a delicate innocence and spunk. Her song where she imagines the Mormon paradise—Salt Lake City—is slightly difficult to decipher.
Evans and O’Neill play real people. We feel for both of them, and can actually relate, Mormon or not, religious or not. This show does not take the easy route and caricature them, and that’s how it works—that’s how it avoids offense. For those interested, the official response by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was one of non-offense. They got it. They understood. Yes, the show contains concepts that could upset: gratuitous swearing, anti-God sentiments, sexual content, etc. It might shock a bit because it knows no fear, but if Book of Mormon teaches us anything, it’s to stop taking things so literally.
For those who want to see this show (everyone), but might not be able to afford it, there is a ticket lottery for each performance beginning 2.5 hours before each show. Those tickets cost $25. This is not a high-brow show, and it is awesome that producers are accommodating of that fact. More information at CAPA.com.
Book of Mormon is in town through May 25 at the Ohio Theatre, 34 W. Broad Street and plays Tues.-Thurs. at 7:30 pm; Fri.-Sat. At 8 pm; Sat. at 2 pm; Sun. at 1 pm & 6:30 pm. Ticket prices range. More information can be found online at CAPA.com.