BWW Reviews: Ma Ha Nei Bu Eebowai for THE BOOK OF MORMON
It's quickly becoming a household name. Although it's nothing like some of the shows considered 'classic Broadway', it has erupted into an existence far from anything of its kind on stage. Book of Mormon could be considered a somewhat mythical creature in the realm of theatre. The ultimate amalgamation of all things Broadway and South Park - this show is a masterpiece.
It offends everyone. Matt Stone and Trey Parker (creators of South Park), as well as Robert Lopez (writer for Avenue Q), are notorious for not letting anyone feel left out of the ridicule. The three men aim to keep the audiences rolling in the aisles even when making jokes about AIDS or murderous African warlords. Deep down, however, this musical has some remarkable things to say about the human condition.
The Book of Mormon follows two nineteen-year-old Mormon missionaries named Elder Kevin Price and Elder Arnold Cunningham. One is the epitome of the of the mission center's pride while the other is considered an outcast. The two young men are sent to Uganda to live out their two years of mission work before they can return to their families. And, despite what Elder Cunningham thinks, they discover that Africa is not like The Lion King.
Price, the man who could someday be deemed the modern day Joseph Smith, was played for the first half of
the Wednesday evening performance by the clearly ill David Larson. Larson struggled immensely with the final note of "You And Me (But Mostly Me)" and then fought through any of his higher notes as the act progressed. Being that most of the songs are riffs off of other Broadway tunes, "Mostly Me" is most certainly a play on "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, Larson's difficulties did not inhibit his portrayal. Rather, it reaffirmed how hard Elder Price was trying to convince the others of his self-appointed ego. Standby Ryan Bondy expertly took on the role in Act II which was strangely metaphoric of Price's own transformation into sidekick status. Bondy's clear vocals gave Price more genuine conviction that he needs to get past his mistakes from Act I.
Candace Quarrels is tasked with playing Nabulungi, the daughter of the village chief Mafala, and takes on the role with poise. As the character with one of the show's more cathartic songs, Quarrels must convey herself with humor as well as quietude. Moments in which she says nothing are often the ones in which she says the most - her body language is spot on and Quarrel's clear connection to her character's needs are refreshing.
One actor who was particularly interesting was standby Chad Burris as Elder Cunningham. Cunningham is the stock sidekick with a nerdy twist. He has difficult making friends (and keeping them). He also has difficulty keeping his hands to himself (and being attentive). Having seen this particular show for the third time on Wednesday evening, Burris is an excellent change of pace from the other Cunninghams that I have personally witnessed. He isn't as peppy, but he doesn't need to be. So much of the humor from the other missionaries is drawn from their constant smiles and positive attitudes - but Cunningham is designed to be flawed. In whatever capacity an actor is able to portray him differently from the others is good. Burris' interpretation is less bouncy and more focused on speech or facial expressions. Any fan who has seen the show numerous times should appreciate Burris.
This show is it yet another example of how humor can tackle the problems of a society. Stone, Parker, and Lopez's production is one that dissects religion, government, poverty, disease, and societal norms while still keeping its audience wholly engaged. Raunchy as it may be, it still has integrity of wit which is what makes it so captivating.
There are few words to accurately describe the humor in The Book of Mormon, but particularly so for this touring cast. Simply put, the show is painfully funny. It may be their first time saying "Hello" to Milwaukee, but hopefully it won't be the last.