Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON is a Vulgar and Comedic Experience at the Landmark Theatre

By: May. 09, 2019
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Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON is a Vulgar and Comedic Experience at the Landmark Theatre
The company of The Book of Mormon. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

The touring production of The Book of Mormon is now "educating" and entertaining audiences in Syracuse's Landmark Theatre. This musical of course brings many laughs and pushes many boundaries by taking a fresh look at the familiar and friendly Mormons that may have knocked on your door. Whether you think the writers are mocking them or just helping you look at them in a different way is up for personal interpretation.

No topic is off limits in this admittedly vulgar musical, including Jesus, AIDS, raping babies, genital jokes, and even Yoda. The musical features a book, music and lyrics created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of "South Park") and Robert Lopez (American songwriter of musicals and co-creator of Avenue Q). It comes as no surprise that these three creative forces created a musical that is just down right offensive and blasphemous (for some, at least) and yet also highly hilarious and entertaining. Vulgar yes, but this musical production also showcases many toe-tapping and catchy tunes, hilarious comedic moments, and this tour features some of the best vocals I have heard in a long time. You will hear some big Broadway belt numbers and numbers with an African influence - all performed very well. Of course, what would a big Broadway musical comedy show be without tap numbers? The ones in this show certainly do not disappoint.

Our protagonists in this story are two young Mormons on a mission to spread the Lord's word. There is Elder Price (Liam Tobin) - the superstar and devoted Ken doll of Mormonism. He prayed to God to send him to Orlando as a missionary, but his seemingly perfect dream/prayer comes crashing down when he is assigned to Africa (Uganda, to be exact) with the odd Elder Cunningham (Jordan Matthew Brown). Elder Cunningham couldn't be any more opposite to Elder Price with his awkward looks and dorky personality. He is also an obsessive liar because of his need to be liked. Arriving in Uganda - a land with murder, AIDS, killer animals, and insects - proves to be problematic for the two young missionaries. It is no Disney World for Elder Price and the environment seems to bring out Elder Cunningham's trait of being a compulsive liar. Do the two unlikely pair spread the word to the dangerous land of Africa without a hitch? That you will have to see for yourself in this visionary, unique, and amusing musical.

The touring cast of The Book of Mormon delivers show-stopping performances. The vocal talent, the dancing, the lights (Brian MacDevitt), the set (Scott Pask), and so much more proves why this is a hit musical. Music Director Andrew Graham conducts the powerful and energizing orchestra in this touring production and the musicians certainly add to the electrifying performances onstage. The catchy and comedic songs come quick. You quickly understand what kind of musical this will be (and how the songs will be used) in the opening scene. The number "Hello" allows the audience to meet Elder Price and Elder Cunningham and the other young and over-the-top friendly Mormon boys at the Missionary Training Center in Utah. The intensity, the edgy choreography, and the powerhouse performances take center stage as the performers dazzle the audience with their vocal skills and comedic chops.

Liam Tobin lights up the stage from the minute he enters with "Hello" all the way to curtain call as Elder Price - the Mr. Perfect and the probable star-to-be as far as Mormon missionaries go. Tobin's expressive and clear vocals and comedic charm truly standout. His most memorable musical number is "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" backed by the stellar ensemble and killer set. This number also features some pretty breathtaking costumes by Ann Roth. He entertains and showcases some great chemistry with Jordan Matthew Brown in "You and Me (But Mostly Me)." His powerful vocals soar in "I Believe."

Jordan Matthew Brown brings down the house with his comedic and impressive facial expressions, perfect line delivery, and all together likeable stage presence as Elder Cunningham. His consistent and entertaining performance includes many standout musical moments including in "Hello," "Two by Two," and especially "Hasa Diga Eebowai" which translates to "F-You, God." Brown often steals the show with his impeccable comedic timing. This is no more apparent than in his rock star moment in "Man Up" and in the highly inappropriate yet entertaining number "Making Things Up Again."

Brinie Wallace played the role of Nabulungi - one of the young people the missionaries meet in Uganda - at the opening night performance I attended. Her vocals were pure magic. Her voice soared through the beautiful Landmark sending chills down your spine. Her passion and energy were truly breathtaking. Her presence alone lit up the stage as she beautifully sang her powerful number "Sal Tlay Ka Siti." Her chemistry with Jordan Matthew Brown in the hilarious number "Baptize Me" was a highlight as well. Wallace's performance stole the show and she delivered one of the most passionate and energetic performances I have seen in a long time. She is a truly dazzling talent.

Other standout performers include Jacques C. Smith as Mafala who introduces the two young missionaries to the small village in Northern Uganda and the famous local saying about how to deal with troubles ("Hasa Diga Eebowai"). Smith's line delivery and chemistry with the rest of the cast is perfection and he is consistently on-point with the comedy.

An expressive and comedic Andy Huntington Jones also steals the spotlight as Elder McKinley. His big number "Turn It Off" with its catchy tune and tap dancing is a favorite highlight in the show thanks to the amusing lyrics and tap dancing, and of course his performance. Isaiah Tyrelle Boyd as the doctor brings the laughs thanks to his antics as the village doctor. Corey Jones as the General delivers a commanding performance as well.

The entire ensemble delivers powerhouse performances, and each have a chance to take center stage and showcase their vocal, dance, and comedic skills. Ensemble numbers such as "I Am Africa" (the number featuring the vulgar yet creative choreography by Casey Nicholaw and unique costumes by Ann Roth), "Joseph Smith American Moses," and "Tomorrow is a Latter Day" are standout and memorable moments each in their own special way.

The Book of Mormon is without a doubt offensive, vulgar, edgy, and inappropriate as it pushes all boundaries and does not hold back from any topic. However, it is entertaining, creative, catchy, and hilarious and it is a musical that certainly showcases impressive singers, actors, and dancers. This is certainly not a show for those that are easily offended, so stay away if that is the case. For those that love big tap numbers, impressive and intricate harmonies, flashy sets, and vulgar humor then this is the show for you!

Running time: Two hours and twenty minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.

The Book of Mormon runs through May 12, 2019 at The Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York as part of the Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series Broadway in Syracuse. For tickets and information on the touring production of The Book of Mormon, click here. For tickets and information on upcoming productions part of The Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series Broadway in Syracuse, click here.