BWW Reviews: THE BOOK OF MORMON is Joyfully Irreverent and Surprisingly Uplifting
Press materials for the immaculately hilarious The Book of Mormon tout Ben Brantley of The New York Times as stating that the show is "The best musical of the century." While this zealous hyperbole is conspicuously missing from his online review, I faithfully know that someone somewhere is truly onto something. The reason being is The Book of Mormon, in spite of all of its crass humor and fowl language, features a simplistic yet clever book that is just as satisfying and satiating as its glorious production numbers that range from extraordinary tap to Vaudeville Minstrel show. Every piece of this well-oiled machine, especially Casey Nicholaw's brilliant and overly exaggerated choreography and Scott Pask's both opulent and stark Scenic Design, works impeccably to entertain and surprisingly touch our hearts. Coming from the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and the co-creator of AVENUE Q, Robert Lopez, all I expected to find was a raunchy buddy film-esque story. Instead, I found salvation in a musical that embraces sacrilege to teach audiences that regardless of how faithfully we cling to any teachings of any religion, from a differing angle those stories that help us to understand life, our purpose on Earth, death, and get us through the hard times look absurd. Furthermore, The Book of Mormon keenly kneels at the glitzy alter of the church of Broadway. For the observant, this modern musical written in the vein of a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic manages to incorporate references to many golden theatrical properties. Some references are blatant and some are deftly subtle, like the nods to WICKED's "The Wizard and I" in "You And Me (But Mostly Me)." Naturally, as the missionaries in this production are sent to Uganda, THE LION KING becomes ample fodder for the production. Yet, the plot is a contemporized amalgamation of THE SOUND OF MUSIC and THE KING AND I. Somewhat like Anna Leonowens, two fresh-faced Mormon boys traveling to the darkest and most destitute regions of the Third World are being charged with imparting knowledge onto people with beliefs much different than their own. Our young protagonists don't get to butt heads with the King of Siam or Captain Georg von Trapp; instead, they encounter a psychotic warlord general. In the place of the swooning and sweeping romantic plots, we are gifted with an intriguing and unpredictably affecting bromance. Now, I am remiss to say much more about the plot because I just don't want to spoil the fun.
Taking on the role of the socially awkward and nerdy Elder Arnold Cunningham is Christopher John O'Neill, who is making his professional debut. He enthusiastically embraces every wacky element of his character, and with the aid of a strong book creates the most likeable character in the history of Musical Theatre. Christopher John O'Neill plays every element of Elder Cunningham to perfection, actually making my eyes mist up during the musical's sweet resolution. Likewise, he often lets his golden pipes be manipulated by his throat and mouth to create humorous effects, especially during the Act I rockshow finale "Man Up," which takes skilled vocal prowess. He fantastically steals the show with performances like "I Am Here for You," "Man Up," "Making Things Up Again," and "Baptize Me."