BWW Review: Irreverent "Book of Mormon" Delights in Return Visit at State Theatre

BWW Review: Irreverent

One of the major concerns in attending a return visit by a Broadway touring show is that the production will be a lesser version. Those planning on attending "Book of Mormon," now on stage at the State Theatre, should have no fears. This reincarnation is equally good as any of the other versions that have trucked into town. In fact, it is probably better than some of the others.

After writing five reviews about the show, what more is there for me to say about the plot? Not much, so here's a blend of some of the former reviews and some added comments about this production.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the long-time writers of "South Park," are satirical comics extraordinaire. Their writing marriage to Robert Lopez, the co-creator of the Tony Award winning "Avenue Q," is a union made in heaven (or at least in the Broadway version of heaven).

"The Book of Mormon" is a satirical musical filled with lots of explicit language. It lampoons organized religion and, in its own way, follows the format, but mocks traditional musical theatre.

The script tells the story of two naïve and optimistic Mormon missionaries (Elder Price and Elder Cunningham) who are sent to a remote village in northern Uganda. A brutal warlord is threatening the locals. While the duo is trying to sell the locals on Mormon scripture, the people are more concerned with famine, poverty, female circumcision, war and AIDS. Oh, what to do, what to do?

How did the duo get to Uganda or even get matched together? Elder Price is the poster boy for the Ken doll, clean cut, and striving for perfection Mormon missionary. Elder Cunningham is a rotund, friendless nerd, who relies on half-truths and a vivid imagination to get by. They were cast as a duo through total serendipity, an act of heaven, and some clever comic writers, to go out and ring the doorbells of the world.

As Elder Cunningham, who admits never having read the mythical Book, makes up fantastic tales, which, in reality, aren't far from the actual imaginative tales of Adam Smith, Brigham Young, the golden tablets, and the migration of the Mormons from upstate New York to Salt Lake City, and he wins over converts.

After he baptizes the entire town, the church's elders come to witness the miraculous success. The villagers share their understanding of the Cunningham version of their new religion in a reenactment, which parallels in form to "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" in the "King and I," with illusions to "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" from "The Sound of Music." Of course chaos results, everything turns out fine, and, after a standing ovation, the audience leaves the theatre singing, "I Believe."

The touring show is spectacular. It plays visually and emotionally on all the senses. From its giddy opening number (think the "Telephone Hour" at the start of "Bye, Bye, Birdie," to its mocking use of four letter words, to its bigger than life melodrama, to the over-the-top mythology (often paralleling the belief system to "Star Wars"), we are sucked into the idea that, as one of the words to the many delightful songs states, "tomorrow is a doper, phatter latter day." (I won't even go into the concept of the song "Ma Ha Nei Bu, Eebowai!" ["F _ _ _You Heavenly Father"], you just have to experience it to experience it!)

The settings, music, costumes, lighting effects, perfect comic timing of the cast, and creative choreography all work.

With shiny perfect teeth flashing, Gabe Gibbs hits all the right notes as Elder Price. Conner Peirson steals the show as Elder Cunningham, the "creative liar." Maha'la Herrold is enchanting as Nabulungi. Oge Agulue is both hysterically funny and evil incarnate, as General Butt-F _ _ king Naked, the war lord. The rest of the cast also shines.

Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker's direction is spot on. Farce, especially musical farce, is hard to accomplish due to its required spoken and sung controlled abandonment, but these guys guide their cast with laser perfection. Nicholaw's choreography is fun and well-executed. Ever thought you'd see a dancing kick line of Mormons?

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you haven't seen "The Book of Mormon," or need a new shot of irreverent satire which skewers anyone and everyone, this is an absolute go see production. If you are a language prude, religious fanatic, or aren't in the mood for ridiculous delight, stay away. It's everything a modern musical that is meant for pure entertainment, with a sip of philosophy, should be!

Tickets for "The Book of Mormon," which runs September 17, 2017, at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to www.playhousesquare.org.


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From This Author Roy Berko

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