BWW Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON at Broadway In Louisville
Review by Kathi E.B. Ellis
The Book of Mormon is in Louisville for the third time since the production started touring. The 2011 Broadway Tony Award-winning smash stands up well, and Thursday night's audience was ready to roar with delight at all the outrageous humor that skewers many religions, Western stereotypes of Africa - and the reverse - and many cultural touchstones.
Frequently, design elements are the first to date as a Broadway production rolls into the touring circuit. The 2018/19 tour feels fresh. The scenic elements (designer Scott Pask) help the flow of the multi-location story in both sophisticated and minimal ways, and nothing feels shabby or yesterday's fad. The same is true of the lighting, (Brian McDevitt designer), and Ann Roth's quintessential Mormon "uniform" set the tone from the beginning of the show
This cast also feels fresh, bringing a never-ending supply of exuberance to the show. Kudos to the tour choreographer John MacInnes, who is keeping Co-director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw's work snappy and precise. The ensemble numbers with the Mormon student missionaries are the most polished I've seen in the three times the show has been in Louisville. And the quick change in the blackout in "Turn It Off" is still impressive.
Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Mark Stone, who collectively wrote the Book, Music, and Lyrics, center the musical on the two years of missionary work on which young Mormon men embark. We trace the selection of partners and locations, the arrival in Uganda (instead of the hoped-for Orlando), encounters with villagers disinterested in another set of missionaries, and the dangerous rebel armies, the bizarre but heartfelt acceptance of what one of the missionaries preaches, and the resulting hybrid Book of Arnold. It's a rollercoaster of politically incorrect circumstances and humor, beginning with the villagers welcoming the two new missionaries with a traditional saying, "Hasa Diga Eebowi", the meaning of which, liberally sprinkled with the 'F' word, shocks are new Elders to the core, and has the audience rolling in laughter and surprise.
Conner Pierson's Elder Cunningham hits all the right notes. Pierson lands all the laughs by not overtly playing for laughs, but playing the dorky awkwardness of his character, and growing into his confidence. As a result, we laugh with him, not at him, and develop affection for this likable misfit.
His partner in proselytizing, Elder Price is played by Liam Tobin with a 1000 kilowatt smile that serves the plausibly charming missionary well in most circumstances - except with the revolutionary general...Tobin commands the stage in his solos with a powerhouse voice. Price's transformation from self-interest to a big-hearted person is underwritten, but Tobin manages to infuse it with authenticity.
Nabalungi, destined to be misnamed by the constantly nebbish Cunningham, returns Kayla Pecchioni to her hometown for the week. A graduate of YPAS and NKU, Pecchioni plays the putative love interest of Cunningham and the villager who brings the converts to the Mormons. Nabalungi's act one ballad, "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" is often the emotional heart of the production, but Pecchioni held back on this interpretation. Instead, the duet "Baptize Me" was at the heart. She and Pierson found the innocence between their characters, while still playing the double entendres that run through the number.
Members of the versatile ensemble play several roles each, frequently employing quick changes to do so, especially in the garishly camp "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" which is designed to briefly offend almost every demographic -but it all happens so quickly that you don't have time to focus on what mighty truly offend you, so you surrender to the outrageousness of the sequence!
The success of The Book of Mormon lies not only in the clever humor of the writing but also in the way the writers infuse Mormon truths and clichés into the story. If we only know that Mormon's proselytize, that's enough to buy into the story. If we know more of the history of Mormonism in this country, that opens up several layers within the storytelling. It's accessible on many levels, and, overall, whether or not you bring a faith tradition with you to the show, there's an affirming resolution of bringing disparate people together when we learn to love and trust each other. Not a bad message for today's world!
The Book of Mormon
February 26 - March 3, 2019
PNC Broadway In Louisville
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40204