BWW Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON Rings Vancouver's Doorbell To Say 'HELLO!'
Invigorating music, impressive choreography, and unexpected hilarious humour are a few things that The Book of Mormon brought to its tour stop in Vancouver with Broadway Across Canada. With its original opening number, "Hello", audiences were greeted with enthusiastically wide grins and high-energy singing during Wednesday night's performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on September 26th. Whether it was your first time seeing the show or your fourth, it was guaranteed you left the show feeling satisfied and pleasantly surprised at the same time!
The 2011 Tony Award Winning musical (9 Tonys including Best Musical) was created by Trey Parker (South Park Co-Creator), Matt Stone (South Park Co-Creator), and Robert Lopez (Music of Avenue Q, Frozen) who collaborated to write the script, music, and lyrics. The Book of Mormon centres around Elder Price, a missionary-in-training at the Latter Day Saints Missionary Centre. Despite his dreams to spend his two-year mission in Orlando, Florida, he is sent to Uganda with his companion - quirky and compulsive liar, Elder Cunningham. During their mission to preach the Mormon religion, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham meet a variety of interesting people and run into various situations that test both their commitment to each other and their mission. As the entire show is a satire and in no-way accurately represents the components of the Mormon religion in its entirety, The Book of Mormon does touch on various aspects of religion such as the importance of love, companionship, and dedication despite the controversial jokes the musical delivers throughout the show.
A truly impressive part of the musical was its choreography by director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw (Aladdin, Tuck Everlasting, Something Rotten, Mean Girls). Numbers such as "Hasa Diga Eebowai" and "Turn It Off" featured innovative choreography not only for each individual actor, but also for the entire cast as a whole. "Hasa Diga Eebowai" was a very catchy song and the choreographed movements of the actors on stage brought so much energy to the music that it made you want to join in. "Turn It Off", sung by the Mormons, included an impressive tap dance number that took the audience by surprise. For those attending the show for the first time, the unexpected tap number gave rise to many laughs while also leading to a brief applause when finished due to its seamless synchronicity among the actors on stage.
The sets by Scott Pask and lighting design by Brian MacDevitt were perfectly fitted to compliment the story. Compared to previous Broadway Across Canada shows, the set transitions between scenes were the best I've seen to date due to their perfectly timed entrances and exits. Depending on where you sit in the audience can determine whether or not you miss some subtle entrances by characters in the show. As I was sitting to the right of the stage in the orchestra section, there were a few entrances of things in the show that I missed and wasn't aware of until they moved more medially on stage. Regardless, no matter where you sit in the audience, missing a few things on the lateral side of the stage should not take away from your overall enjoyment of the show. It did not degrade my impression of the show or my overall Book of Mormon experience.
The part of the set that was present throughout the show was a Mormon temple border along the edges of the stage possessing stain glass windows. This stage border reminded the audience of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham's starting place as the setting of the story changed throughout the musical. When they moved to Uganda, the set and lighting completely changed and displayed organic wood branch sub stages, huts, and clotheslines to represent the new place. With the dramatic change in setting, the lighting also transitioned from calming blue galaxy-like colours to warmer tones as the Mormons moved to Africa. An interesting part of the show was when Elder Price had a dream about being in hell. During the number, "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" the entire stage was transformed into the fiery pits of hell featuring the devil, cast members dressed as famous criminals, and many more things that one would dream would exist in that place. It was hard to recognize the once peaceful and religious looking stage during this number. Moments like the "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" number in The Book of Mormon sets this show apart from any other that I've seen before. No matter how unique or crazy Parker, Stone, and Lopez's ideas were, they were brought to life with the magic of the theatre.
The entire cast of this touring production of The Book of Mormon did not disappoint. Kevin Clay brought power and intensity to his self-centred character, Elder Price. During songs such as "I Believe", Clay showed-off his powerhouse vocals leaving the audience in complete awe. In addition, Conner Peirson as Elder Cunningham gave another amazing performance. Although his character often thought of himself as just a follower and supporter of Elder Price, Peirson's portrayal of Elder Cunningham was the performance that shone the brightest compared to the rest. At the beginning, Peirson's high energy and excitement was comparable to that of a puppy going to the dog park for the first time - a tad scared but eager to explore. As the show progressed Perison's acting evolved as he showed more confidence when Elder Cunningham took on more of a leadership role. As Elder Cunningham appears to be very one-dimensional at first, he becomes more problematic with multiple levels complexity as the story progresses. With all of his underlying problems, Elder Cunningham is able to grow and mature throughout the show which Peirson does an excellent job of portraying.
The opening number "Hello" sung by the Mormons was a definite crowd favourite moment judging by the laughs and smiles coming from audience members. With their over-exaggerated smiles, greetings, and clearly enunciated words, the Mormons started off the show with high energy. As this musical is a satirical comedy of the Mormon religion, the actors were not over-the-top with this number, but presented the perfect about of pizzazz that got the audience excited to see what was to come. My favourite part of the show was the repetition of the opening number with both the Ugandan people and the Mormons at the end of the show. The overall musical was hilarious and the scenes such as the "Hello (Reprise)" are what made The Book of Mormon outstanding comedic gold.
THE BOOK OF MORMON was both a wildly inappropriate (at times) and a wildly entertaining show to experience. Just when you think that the show has pushed boundaries in terms of content, it will surprise you and push them a little bit further as the show continues on. Due to its mature content, I would not recommend bringing kids to see this show as it contains explicit language and themes for adult audiences. Filled with catchy songs and featuring an insanely talented cast, The Book of Mormon is a show that you can't miss!
THE BOOK OF MORMON is currently playing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver from September 25th to 30th. Tickets are available at https://www.ticketmaster.ca/ or by calling 1-855-682-6736.
Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes, 2017