BWW Reviews: THE BOOK OF MORMON Will Make You Believe! at Bob Carr Performing Arts
The biggest show of Orlando's Broadway Across America season, THE BOOK OF MORMON is finally here and playing at the Bob Carr. It is destiny that a show that cites Orlando as the greatest place ever, brings the audience to its feet. Even people who do not like musicals are lining up and getting excited to see this masterpiece.
THE BOOK OF MORMON is a musical that pokes fun at Mormonism with book, lyrics, and music written by some funny people: Trey Parker (co-creator of South Park), Matt Stone (also co-creator of South Park) and Robert Lopez (music and lyrics for AVENUE Q). Two young Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, travel to bring the teachings of Joseph Smith to Uganda. The Mormons try to convert door-to-door (or hut-to-hut) in a country that has bigger problems like poverty, disease, and violence.
From the moment you start flipping through the Playbill you will begin to notice the absurdity. Real Mormon full-page color ads grace several pages. There is even a QR code to download the real Book. Then you read the bio for Elder Price (Mark Evans) and realize that he's a British actor touring around the United States, playing an all-American good ole' boy who is acting a missionary in Uganda. Evans does a great job at mastering that whole persona with a smooth voice, fabulous dance moves, and a blindingly white smile, not to mention an amazing American accent. While he has the look of the quintessential Mormon door knocker, Elder Price has some serious narcissism that will get him in trouble. Meanwhile his buddy, Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O'Neill) takes the cake as a Chris Farley-esque sidekick. Cunningham's liberal interpretation of the Book of Mormon, then the tribe's subsequent re enactment is arguably the best theater moment out there.
In the African tribe, Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware) seems to be the progressive, yet easily influenced stereotypical native. Ware's voice is something to behold with beauty and strength mixed with humor. It is very clear that Africa is not like the Lion King when the duo meets the General (Derrick Williams) and other crazy tribes people like the Doctor (Josh Breckenridge). The Doctor's random outbursts are literally showstopping.
The music is catchy, brilliant, and moves naturally between pop/rock and African beats. At some points you would think that the Bob Carr audience was attending a rock concert and not a hit Broadway musical. Every mention of Orlando or Disney movie reference brings the crowd to an absurd level of excitement and lingers to throw off some of the show's timing. The cast seems to thrive off the energy from the crowd, genuinely adoring the fact that they are in Orlando, and singing about Orlando. There is even an incredibly accurate backdrop that perfectly captures everything that defines Orlando. There really is no better place to see THE BOOK OF MORMON than in Orlando to truly appreciate the additional level of humor brought on by living here. I wonder if the reception is the same in Salt Lake City?
The pacing of the show moves well and does not feel long with each scene topping itself with funny on top of absurd. No group is safe from parody. THE BOOK OF MORMON does wonders for pointing out the cluelessness of Americans and the desire to help the world by imposing a particular viewpoint. There are some amazing cameos ranging from dead Hitler to miscellaneous Star Trek character to a light-up Jesus. The proscenium surrounding the stage is set to look like a Mormon temple. Two large disco balls help set the scene for some flashy dance numbers and crazy dream sequences. Everyone loves a tap dance number, especially when it is performed by a group of suppressed Mormon missionaries.
It is an easy show to follow and very easy show to laugh with, but not recommended for those easily offended. There is foul language and humor that is not recommended for young audiences, but for those who want a raucous time at the theater, this is not to be missed. Yet as crazy and offensive as THE BOOK OF MORMON is; the audience leaves with a fairly strong understanding of Mormon teachings all while singing showtunes.