BWW Review: BOOK OF MORMON Rings the Doorbell at Clowes Memorial Hall
The assumption when you take your seat for The Book of Mormon is that you will laugh, perhaps even laugh a lot, but that is far from the truth. You are much more likely to be in physical pain from full-belly laughing for nearly the entire show. Trey Parker and Matt Stone did an exceptional job using humor as a vehicle for some excellent life lessons.
Part of what made the experience of this musical so much fun was the ensemble. The stars of the show were most definitely a highlight, but the ensemble as a whole were thoroughly talented and invested in the show. There was no need to stay focused on the main characters when the entire stage was filled with dedicated performers. From the army of Mormon men, to the bedazzled Biblical and prophetical characters, to the people of the African village keen to tell-off God, the show did not lack an iota of pizzazz.
As with any show, there are always a few performers who stand out. One such performer was Kayla Pecchioni as Nabulungi. Her petite frame does not prepare you for the power of her voice. She also played so well the star-struck young girl desperate for answers who ends up jaded and beaten down by the very thing meant to save her: religion. As such, she had a special position among the others because she had to show such range in her character. To me, her story is the vehicle for presenting the heart of the whole show.
Although Nabulungi experiences her own revelations in life, she finds her parallel in Elder Price, played by Liam Tobin. He is the poster child for someone who becomes disillusioned when not every prayer is answered exactly. But he also becomes the one who crystallizes the central message. His initial entrances are full of bravado and charm, which is what makes his fall from grace so much more impactful. What makes his fall so engrossing is that he comes to the understanding that faith is more than a book, doorbells, and a tie.
I also have to say how correct Corey Jones was about the last portion of the show. He plays the General with a commanding presence (and plays an equally terrifying and hilarious Devil), but he said in our earlier interview that the last few minutes helps to bring about the audience's redemption. He was so right that all of the hilarity that precedes those last few minutes helps the audience to see that ringing doorbells and big smiles only have relevance when the goal is to act on what you believe in and use it to spur change, to give people peace and happiness.
The show, written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone from "South Park", along with the songwriter, Robert Lopez, is about a little, cute pair of wide-eyed Mormons heading out to the wide world on their new two-year mission to spread the good word, as established by the "all-American prophet," Joseph Smith.
Elder Price (Liam Tobin) dreams of being in Orlando surrounded by Sea World, Disney and putt-putt golf, but instead is sent to Uganda with Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson), a difficult loner who has a lying issue. They end up landing in a small African village beset by a warlord, famine, and AIDS. Be advised: "BOOK OF MORMON" is mocking, racist, raunchy, profane, and insults pretty much everyone. 18+ is strongly encouraged.
Above all, I couldn't take my eyes off Peirson. Major kudos to Casting Director, Carrie Gardner, for finding this jewel: Peirson was delightful, believable, and charming. His dancing style was wildly fun and energetic; his emotions were palpable; his slap-stick humor was spot-on; his voice was strong. I was especially impressed with Cunningham's songs with Nabalungi (Kayla Pecchioni) as they were genuinely believable, affectionate, and sweet.
For a show that focuses mainly on humor, the ensemble was excellently cast. All of them did a wonderful job with comic timing and stage presence. There were a few supporting cast members that stood out with their performances. Jacques Smith played "Mafala," one of the leaders of the village. His voice was robust, and he knew how to use it for comedy and prominence. He especially stood out as he introduced the newcomers to his village, explaining how while they live a constant state of hopelessness, they get through it in their own, unique way. Andy Huntington Jones played "Elder McKinley", who is the leader of the missionaries in that region. Jones's comedic delivery was perfect, detailed, and enthusiastically showed up with every step he took. Especially shining during the exciting tap-dancing song of "Turn It Off," Jones is not only a ball of energy, but also has some serious talent.
Scott Pask's sets were exceptional, diverse, and served the show well, with the African locations being notable. Lighting design by Brian MacDevitt included many ingenious effects and benefited the show momentously. Costuming by Ann Roth were setting and character appropriate and frequently imaginative.
Those who are easily offended may want to stay away from BOOK OF MORMON, but for those with stronger constitutions, it is a very funny and solidly crafted show.
To get your chance to bust a seam laughing and to get in touch again with what faith means to you, you can see BOOK OF MORMON until December 23rd.