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BWW Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON at Kravis Center For The Performing Arts

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BWW Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON at Kravis Center For The Performing Arts The Book of Mormon: Our Favorite Guilty Pleasure!

Kravis on Broadway present the touring production of The Book of Mormon at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. The musical, which lampoons both organized religion and traditional musical theatre, was conceived by Trey Parker, Matt Stone (creators of South Park), and Robert Lopez. This hysterically funny show is not for the faint of heart. While it comes with a parental advisory for explicit language, it should also come with a general caution to all for its possibly offensive representation of organized religion. However, as ridiculous and potentially offensive as some of this show may be, The Book of Mormon is a delectable guilty pleasure!

The Book of Mormon tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries, Elder Price (Kevin Clay) and Elder Cunningham (Connor Peirson), who are sent to a remote village in northern Uganda. The seemingly perfect Elder Price sings of all he plans to do in Uganda in "You and Me (But Mostly Me)". Once they are there, however, they find a brutal warlord (Oge Agulue) is threatening the local population with, among other things, mandatory female circumcision. When the two missionaries optimistically try to share the teaching of the scriptures found in the Book of Mormon (which only one of them has actually read) with the villagers, they find them instead preoccupied with the harsh realities of war, famine, poverty and AIDS. The missionaries are ill-prepared to address the obstacles presented by these harsh realities, and must find a creative way to pursue the conversion of the local population that is the goal of their mission.

Elders Price and Cunningham discover that their fellow Mormon missionaries, who are led by Elder McKinley (PJ Adzima), have made no headway converting the locals who push through the difficulties of their existence with the mantra "Hasa Diga Eebowai". While the song may sound charmingly akin to "Hakuna Matata", it actually is a crude epithet hurled at God. Still, the missionaries muddle on suppressing their frustration, particularly Elder McKinley, who keeps more than his frustration in the closet in "Turn It Off." A well-meaning Elder Cunningham, smitten by the daughter (Nabulungi) of the village chief (Mafala Hatimbi), takes great liberties in translating the words of the Book of Mormon to the locals in order to proselytize them. Though his execution is clumsy, his results are undeniable. All of the young missionaries grapple with issues of the letter of religious doctrine versus the intent.

With his confident smile and a sure singing voice, Kevin Clay is wonderful as the all- American Elder Price. Connor Peirson is delightful as the earnest but awkward misfit, Elder Cunningham. He combines adept comic timing and mobile facial expressions, with immense likability. PJ Adzima is nimble as both a comedian and a dancer in the song "Turn It Off" which oddly celebrates the art of repression and self-denial.

Kim Exum has a sweet, warm presence as Nabulungi. One of my favorite parts of the show is the many fumbled attempts at her name by would-be suitor Elder Cunningham, such as "Neutrogena", "Neosporin", "Nala", etc. The rich sound of the singing voices of the ensemble fills the space impressively in the large group numbers. The choreography made me laugh several times in moments when it is intentionally presentational and trite.

The scenic design, lighting, sound and costuming are exactly what one would expect of a national tour of this show; and all of these elements work together seamlessly. What makes this show so solid is the attention to musical theatre form and attention to detail. There is just enough character development, the lyrics are clever, the melodies are memorable, the choreography is as tight as one would expect from a heavy dance show, the harmonies are locked in solid, and the orchestrations are well written and cleanly played. With a beautiful blend of Broadway and pop, the two-and-a-half-hour show flies by.

The Book of Mormon is intellectually a step above, and creatively miles above, some of the adolescent buffoonery featured in episodes of South Park, but still derives humor from the crude, the clumsy, the irreverent, the anachronistic and the unexpected. Check your maturity and your sense of decorum at the door. This show finds its humor by pushing the boundaries of taste and convention. The Mormon faith in particular takes quite a beating - with its beliefs and conduct codes being presented in the most laughable way. However, it is all organized religion and societal conventions as a whole, that are the butt of the endless stream of jokes in this musical parody. One cannot help but laugh in spite of all of this. The whole time thinking "did they really just say that?!"

Trey Parker and Matt Stone grew up in Colorado, and were familiar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), which became the comedic focus of their musical satire. The two men co-created the music with Robert Lopez, the co-composer/co-lyricist of the successful Broadway musical Avenue Q. After nearly seven years in development, The Book of Mormon opened on Broadway on March 24, 2011, at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, where it is still running. The production received overwhelmingly positive critical response including nine Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards, and four Outer Critics Circle Awards.

In addition to co-writing and co-directing The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker is best known for being the co-creator of the animated series South Park, along with his creative partner and best friend Matt Stone. Parker started his film career in 1989 when he created the film Giant Beavers of Southern Sri Lanka. In 1992 Parker co-created Jesus vs. Frosty, but his first real success came from the stage musical Cannibal! The Musical. In 1995 he made a second animated short entitled Jesus vs. Santa, which led him and Stone to create South Park, which began airing on television in 1997. Parker has received five Emmy Awards for his work on South Park.

This production of The Book of Mormon will be appearing on the Marden Stage, in Dreyfoos Hall, at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts through November 26, 2017. The Kravis Center for the Performing Arts is located at 701 Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach, Florida. For tickets to this show, and/or information on their season, you may contact them by phone at 561-832-7469 (561-832-SHOW) or 1-800-572-8471, or online at www.kravis.org.

Cast:
Mormon: Tyler Leahy
Elder McKinley/Moroni: PJ Adzima
Elder Price: Kevin Clay
Elder Cunningham: Connor Peirson
Mission Training Center Voice/Price's Dad/Joseph Smith/Mission President: Ron Bohmer
Cunningham's Dad: Jaron Barney
Mrs. Brown: Monica L. Patton
Guards: Will Lee-Williams, Tyrone L. Robinson
Mafala Hatimbi: Sterling Jarvis
Nabulungi: Kim Exum
General: Oge Agulue
Doctor: Andre-Chance Goddard
Ensemble: Jaron Barney, Christopher Brasfield, Jake Emmerling, Zach Erhardt, John Garry, Eric Geil, Andre-Chance Goddard, Keisha Gilles, Daryn Whitney Harrell, Kolby Kindle, Tyler Leahy, Stoney B. Mootoo, Will Lee-Williams, Monica L. Patton, John Pinto, Jr., Tyrone L. Robinson

Crew:

Direction: Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker

Music Director: Alan Bukowiecki

Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw

Scenic Design: Scott Pask

Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt

Sound Design: Brian Ronan

Costume Design: Ann Roth

Hair Design: Josh Marquette

Production Stage Manager: Joyce Davidson

*The actors in this production are members of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional actors and stage managers in the United States.


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