BWW Reviews: Megahit BOOK OF MORMON Will Rule LA 'til November 25 at the Pantages
Winner of nine 2011 Tony Awards including one for Best Musical, The Book of Mormon may have a little sprinkling of the insanity of say, Mel Brooks - remember History of the World Part I? - but is, in texture and form, 99.9% original. Exuding an unparalleled rhythm and spirit, it is at once profane yet totally humane. With a stellar touring cast and astounding direction from Broadway directors Casey Nicholaw, who has also choreographed brilliantly, and Trey Parker, who also wrote the book, music and lyrics with partners Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, Book of Mormon is irresistible heaven at the Pantages through November 25, but buy your tickets now to avoid disappointment.
Considered by many to be the funniest show on Broadway in the last decade, Mormon 's success is due to its flat-out refusal to be anything but what it is, a crazed and irreverent satire of the Mormon religion, or quite obviously of all organized religions. Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner), a mismatched pair to be sure, are assigned to Uganda to do missionary work for the Church of Latter Day Saints. There is already a team of missionaries in place, but not a single baptism in the Mormon faith has yet been recorded. Mafala Hatimbi (Kevin Mambo) and Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware) greet the two new boys with some pretty alarming statistics about their soon-to-be living conditions, but Price and Cunningham weather adversity until the General (Derrick Williams) goes on a shooting spree and decimates Price's enthusiasm for winning. He starts to leave, rebuking Cunningham's friendship. Alone, however, Cunningham, with his wild untruths about Mormon historical background, seems doomed to failure. But, when he single-handedly achieves the impossible by procuring the baptisms of Nabulungi and several others, he becomes a hero. The uneducated seem such easy victims, falling under the spell of his grotesque fabrications.
Without going into too much detail and spoiling the fun, suffice to say that Elder Price re-enters, he and Cunningham renew their friendship and fight the other missionaries to ensure that the Mormon people, and this includes all of the African converts, stand up not only for God but for what is righteous and beneficial for one and all, according to the Book of Mormon or... Book of Arnold (Cunningham, that is.) Since a religion's rules are man made, whatever works, works. The traditional Mormons could not care less about their charges' fate after conversion, so why not let the younger, more enthusiastic elders take over? Of course there is perilous folly in this, but do we worry in musical satire? It's hardly the real world, or is it? A perfect example appears in Act I's "Turn It Off" where the elders train the newest members to turn off evil, maybe homosexual, thoughts like a light switch. The lights come down, and when they come back up, the boys are wearing pink vests, standing in a chorus line and tapping their behinds off. It's one hilarious Mel Brooks image. "Take what I've just said seriously? C'mon! Live!" Mormons were polygamists and ... notorious for their hypocritical ways. However, this does not stop us from laughing!
The cast is superb from top to bottom. Creel is magnetic as Elder Price - he is truly transformed, and Gertner makes Elder Cunningham's sappy sense of imagination take flight. Ware is precious as the optimistic Nabulungi; Williams and Mambo bring a sense of naivete to the mean macho tribesmen. Grey Henson is a standout as the fay Elder McKinley, so totally stuck on himself. Praise to the entire 31-member ensemble who sing, dance and act their hearts out to Nicholaw's nicely varied choreography and Nicholaw's and Parker's keen co-direction. Scott Pask's easily adaptable set design and Ann Roth's colorful costumes, especially in numbers like "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" are deliciously and wickedly alluring.