BWW Review: Audiences Give Praise to BOOK OF MORMON at The Music Hall At Fair Park
The Book of Mormon swept through Dallas this week and could not have been better received by it's audiences. When auxiliary parking and bathroom breaks take enduring longer lines than those in certain sacred texts, you know the buzz about a show has hit it's peak.
Wondrous comedic duo, Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park and Team America fame, first blessed our great nation with The Book of Mormon in 2011. The work was a daring collaboration with Robert Lopez who we can thank for the genius music and lyrics on Avenue Q and a few little songs, including one called "Let it Go", from Frozen. The story is at its core a simple tale of finding your voice and accepting one another. But true to the creator's particular brand of humor, the narrative is told through a gleefully tongue-in-cheek style production rife with vulgar humor and lewd imagery.
The tale begins by introducing the beginnings of the Mormon faith to the audience. Mormon and Moroni pantomime under the all-to-familiar Cartman-esque voice over by Trey Parker. Fading from the theology flashback, the stage is rushed with doorbell ringing, tie-bedecked, young men of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They only want to spread the word about the most amazing book! And among these eager young men are our two protagonists: Elder Kevin Price and Elder Arnold Cunningham. Elder Price is an "All-American Prophet", a good-looking, JC Crew kind of kid with the world at his feet due to his considerable charms. Elder Cunningham could not be more opposite-an outsider with quintessential "nerd" idiosyncrasies, Cunningham fibs and stretches stories for attention and inclusion with his peers.
As a rite of passage, these young adults are grouped together and assigned their Missions to spread the word of their church around the wold. Much to Elder Price's chagrin, he is paired with the considerable burden of being partnered with Elder Cunningham and sent to Uganda instead of somewhere like sunny Orlando. Upon arrival they encounter a desperate township, held captive under a militant General, as well as a downtrodden mission group with little success in helping the natives. Through a series of follies, foibles, and personal tests of faith, the two men discover some ugly truths about themselves and some interesting effects of dogma.
On January 30th we had the pleasure of watching Robert Colvin step into the role of Elder Price. Not only was his performance as a swing completely solid, but he was arguably the standout of the cast. The clear camaraderie between Colvin and Conner Peirson as Elder Cunningham was endearing to witness. Colvin's conviction in the role, solid vocals, and clear comfort on stage was a delight.
Some of the tertiary characters also had standout performances: Ron Bohmer played every stuck up, middle-aged, white male including Jon Smith himself, and stole several scenes with his "straight-man" deadpan deliveries. Corey Jones, as the warlord General Butt [something we can't print] Naked, also elicited raucous laughter with his incredulous reactions to the well-meaning white men. The ensemble was largely an equally amiable asset to the show, with only a few awkward moments in choreography (particularly in the number "Two by Two") where energies of the dancers didn't always match, causing some to pull focus.
Sadly the only shortcoming seemed to be the character of Nabulungi played by Kayla Pecchioni. Pecchioni seemed a bit green for the role and I'm unsure whether it is simply her very youthful look or liberties taken with the direction given. When I last saw The Book of Mormon, Candace Quarrels played this part as a strong woman who was simply naive about the outside world. The arc had more depth overall, and her voice was largely stronger. Pecchioni grew throughout the show; where her performance in "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" was a bit flat, by the second act her part in "Baptize Me" was sweet and appropriately awkward.
I have to commend Dallas Summer Musicals, in league with Broadway Across America, for bringing this show back to our city. Not only is the production quality itself top notch with impressive set changes, strong costuming, and surprising lighting effects, but the messages behind more controversial shows are equally important to reach a wide-array of audiences in these recent years. I appreciate the willingness to challenge patrons by fielding some shows that may be considered less than family friendly. I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing while seated next to two dear friends who are ex-Mormons and it was their first time to see this show. Hearing them gush for days after the performance about how accessible some of the content was (particularly "Turn it Off" and "I Believe), how challenging some of the scenes were (I noted a particular head drop next to me when magic underwear were revealed) proved how touching some of the more "offensive" content can truly be.
"Tomorrow is a Latter-Day" and if you missed your chance to see The Book of Mormon in the Music Hall at Fair Park try to catch up with them on their tour next in New Orleans 02/05-02/10 or Little Rock 02/12-02/17. Tickets at https://bookofmormonbroadway.com/tour.