BWW Review: Clutch Your Pearls, THE BOOK OF MORMON Has Returned to Town
After three successful runs in Los Angeles in 2012, 2014, and 2017 at the Pantages, that smut-mouthed, but endearing musical comedy The Book Of Mormon has squatted downtown at the Ahmanson, and third time around, it has lost none of its luster, or its smut.
Irreverent and yet strangely respectful of its characters, The Book of Mormon is the brainchild of Avenue Q's Robert Lopez and South Park creators Trey Parker/Matt Stone. Anyone who's seen an episode of the long-running potty-mouthed cartoon on Comedy Central knows Parker and Stone commonly walk (and fall over) a fine line between satire and offensive. Here, they manage to juggle an extraordinary balance of X-rated songs, belly laughs, a morality play, a touching buddy tale and tragic bloodshed more apropos for a Tarantino flick, but it all manages to work.
Utilizing the format of the odd couple trope, Mormon tells the parable of two young missionaries. Elder Price (Liam Tobin) and Elder Cunningham (Jordan Matthew Brown), who find themselves in the deep jungles of Uganda, needing to baptize poor villagers in order to impress Mormon headquarters back in Utah. Elder Price is an over-achiever, while Elder Cunningham is slovenly and prone to make up stories.
Lopez's score, aided by Parker/Stone's lyrics, are Broadway caliber while remaining as nasty as its reputation. Many of the lyrics cannot be printed in a family website. It's rousing with memorable show-stopping numbers like the act one finale, "Man Up" and the toe-tapping extravaganza "Turn It Off." There are also heartfelt numbers like the African girl's "wish" song "Sal Tlay Ka Siti." Many recent spoofs think that just quoting a line or a musical verse of an established song automatically makes for hilarity, I'm looking at you Something Rotten, however Mormon borrows whole verses of "I Have Confidence" from The Sound Of Music, musical tunes from "Somewhere That's Green" from Little Shop of Horrors, and restages an obscenely hysterical version of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" from The King And I, but twists those motifs in a pretzel.
This latest cast includes several actors from the Broadway and West End productions and cohesively, the ensemble and leads are boisterous, talented, and great collaborators. Tobin plays the self-aggrandizing Price like a cartoon character about to explode. His voice is tremendous, as witnessed particularly in "I Believe." Brown, with a toothy grin that evokes the vaudeville comedian Phil Silvers, could easily slip into Silver's famous character of Sgt Bilko, with his lovable but nefarious schemes. Alyah Chanelle Scott is endearing as the African girl praying to escape to the paradise known as Salt Lake City. Andy Huntington Jones foams up like a meringue, tapping away in his musical numbers with a bright smile, while still revealing a touch of the pain his character suffers in the homophobic church.
Casey Nicholaw's inventive choreography has been perfectly recreated and he directs the tour with heart and wit.
The Book of Mormon never outstays its welcome. Sly humor, a tuneful score, and something resonating to say about religion, the musical only enhances after each viewing.
The Book Of Mormon will be playing at the Ahmanson Theatre until March 29th. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/ahmanson-theatre/2019-20/the-book-of-mormon/
Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes.