BWW Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON Says 'Hello' to the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
An exuberant blend of toe-tapping hits and raunchy comedy, The Book of Mormon knocked on the door of Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre in 2011, later receiving 9 Tony Awards including the coveted title of Best Musical. Written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone along with Avenue Q co-writer Robert Lopez, this flamboyant mega-hit pokes fun at Mormonism and musicals in general, daring audiences not to be swept away by a riptide of crude humour and blatant social commentary.
The story opens with golden boy Elder Price (Kevin Clay) and his bumbling companion Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson), who, in a seemingly cruel twist of fate, are shipped off to rural Uganda for their two-year mission. Much to their further dismay, they land in a squalid village, whose residents quake in the shadow of a brutish warlord (Corey Jones) and spurn a god who's surely abandoned them. Then there's the matter of riling up complacent fellow missionaries, threats of exotic wildlife (particularly maggots) and, most horrific of all, nary a doorbell in sight. However, this mission is not completely impossible. With encouragement from starry-eyed local Nabulungi (Kayla Pecchioni) and Elder Cunningham's penchant for elaborate storytelling (a.k.a. lies), there's still hope for a baptism or two.
As the production's leads, Clay and Peirson are a dynamic duo with no shortage of chemistry. Clay showcases a classic Broadway belt in showstoppers I Believe and Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, regaling the audience with lightning-fast dance moves and balancing bravado with vulnerability as he grapples with his faith and his inner demons. As his blundering sidekick, Peirson displays impeccable comedic timing peppered with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings references, endearing him as a nerd who's desperate for a friend. Together, they win over the audience as a couple of fish out of salt water, sweeping them along as they struggle to swim against the tides of oppression and doubt.
Other noteworthy performances include the rollicking tap-dance number Turn It Off and the opening acts of both segments, in which we are whisked back to the fateful day of Mormonism's humble beginnings.
Most musical blockbusters come with imposing staging and eye-popping visuals, and Mormon is no exception. From imposing stained-glass windows, extravagant multi-coloured lights, and backdrops of cartoonish cotton-candy clouds, the production is engaging to behold, complementing the larger-than-life personalities dancing across the stage.
However, for all its sky-high energy and engaging ensemble numbers, some jokes can only go so far before becoming excessive. Much of Mormon's trademark vulgarity derives from its final half hour, doling out the bathroom humour and sexual innuendos until the audience is threatened to be buried alive. True, the whole point is to rile up theatregoers, culminating in a play-within-a-play that will be remembered regardless of one's experience.
In spite of it all, there's an undeniable playfulness throughout this two and-a-half hour musical blockbuster. It treads lightly on the age-old tropes of faith vs. doubt, illuminating prevailing themes of friendship and family almost as brightly as the first act's glittering disco lights. It isn't meant to be taken seriously, and that's why audiences gladly wave "hello" to this raucous spectacle time and again.
Photo Credit: BWW-Staff