BWW Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON Rings Pittsburgh's (Door)Bell
Hello: a customary greeting of the English language.
Mormon: a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Musical: a play in with singing and dancing.
Combined, they create one of the most shocking theatrical comedies of the last decade.From the creators of South Park, a parody centered on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Tony-winning musical The Book of Mormon entertained thousands on Broadway and around the world and is at Heinz Hall through the Easter holiday.
The Book of Mormon tells the unconventional story of a group of young Mormons on their mission in African. Elder Price (Liam Tobin) and Elder Cunningham (Jordan Matthew Brown), two unlikely friends, are paired up as mission brothers. Price, an aspiring young Elder, is a prodigy among the Mormon missionaries when he first gets to Africa, while Cunningham's biggest hope is to be a follower and not a disappointment to his mission brother and family. Sob stories aside, their dichotomies are the spark for laughter in numbers like "Two by Two" and "You and Me (But Mostly Me)."
Elder Cunningham quickly realizes that Africa is not the same as The Lion King; war, poverty, and genital mutilation, among other things, make the mission a bit more difficult than what was taught in the training center in Salt Lake City and lead to this show's adult version of "Hakuna Matata" in "Hasa Diga Eebowai."
Destined to do something incredible, Elder Price makes it his mission to convert the first African, but he is met with a challenge when an African warlord shows up and kills the person standing in front of him. Blood-spattered, the no longer pristine white shirt of Elder Price is indicative of his mental state, as he abandons his fellow missionaries.
The comic relief of Elder Cunningham allows his character to shine as the new savior to these struggling missionaries. He tries to convert the Africans, using metaphors to Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Matrix, and many more. The pop culture illusions are equally matched with references from other musicals. While watching The Book of Mormon, you almost feel like you're hearing distorted versions of Wicked, The King and I, and The Sound of Music mixed together and intensified from a "G" rating to an "X" rating.
It's hard to distill the comedy of this show for one review, but the easiest way to describe it is through the other famous work by the authors. The Comedy Central show South Park was created by the same duo that penned this show, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Singing and dancing in The Book of Mormon only amplify the crass humor audiences have come to expect from the animated television show.
With that being said, The Book of Mormon does not trade laughs for talent; jubilant singing and large dance numbers fill the show. Mr. Tobin shines in his show stopping number "I Believe." His superb execution of the song made me feel like I was a believer, too!
The individual quirks of the actors were another standout. Anyone can listen to a soundtrack and know how it is supposed to be sung, but the interactions between the actors are truly unique to every cast and at every performance. Refining their craft evolves as each actor settles into their role, and it's clear each actor has taken diligent steps to a deeper connection with their character.
At times, some technical issues undermined the talent on stage; there were multiple numbers where a cacophony of voices and instruments made discerning lyrics difficult, losing a punch line or two along the way. Additionally, lighting cues sometimes left some actors in the dark while other times made the Mormons glow a little too bright in their white shirts.
Still, for a first timer, this show is one that will make you question musical comedy and possibly even your own religion. The vulgarity and humor might lose their shock value after the first time seeing the it, but that's the risk Parker and Stone ran when creating this contemporary show. Almost a decade later, and something about tap dancing Mormons in Africa still seems to resonate with audiences by the thousands.
The Book of Mormon runs through Easter Day in Pittsburgh and features a lottery at the box office two and a half hours prior to each performance where entrants have the chance to win $25 tickets.
To see or not to see score: 8/9; Strongly Recommended Show
Photo by: The Book of Mormon National Tour