BWW Reviews: BOOK OF MORMON Gives Big, Bright Wonderful Hello to Fresno

BWW Reviews: BOOK OF MORMON Gives Big, Bright Wonderful Hello to Fresno

Unconventional theatre that honors conventional, musical theatre classics. F bomb after F bomb that somehow manage to be surprisingly inoffensive. Hilarious joke after joke opposite shocking reality. "Book of Mormon" is full of pairs. It even begins with a very catchy number titled "Two by Two," in which young men pair off for their missions.

The Tony Award winning musical follows Elder White and Elder Cunningham, whom the Church sends to Uganda for a two-year mission. Expecting "Lion King," the new friends instead meet a warlord and death upon arrival. The script mocks religion as something made up for the sake of hope, yet it also encourages hope.

The $20 colored program quotes co-creator Matt Stone: "I think there's a group of people that are kind of the middle of the two most extreme religious ideologies, which are religious fundamentalists who take Scripture literally ... and fundamentalist atheists who just hate religion. [We] always felt there was this middle that's where most of us live. ... I think it feels good to in some ways acknowledge that certain aspects of religion are just silly. But whatever anybody's religion is, we should be able to laugh at it and at the same time understand that we should accept people who believe and have faith, without dismissing their lives as unserious."

BWW Reviews: BOOK OF MORMON Gives Big, Bright Wonderful Hello to FresnoThe idea of "living in the middle" surfaces. Religion may offer compelling answers to the big question, "Why?" But evil and sorrow cannot just be glazed over. The answers may not always have scientific support, but life often requires "belief," faith and community. "Book of Mormon" hyperbolizes its characters and circumstances, but book writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone (who brought the world "South Park") with composer Robert Lopez (of "Frozen" and "Avenue Q" fame) also did their homework. In their program notes, they write of their desire to create a spectacular pageant story about Joseph Smith and of their conversations with actual Mormons. Again, satire pairs with honest respect. Parker, Lopez and Stone provide thought-provoking material wrapped in endearing parody and two and a half hours of jaw-dropping, non-stop humor.

While it should be recognized that religious organizations, including the Church of Latter Day Saints, have accomplished much in helping third-world nations, most audience members will not be Mormon, and, to be honest, people don't like to see negative news reports. But when truth comes in the form of comedy, they feel moved to do something. Perhaps that is why "Book of Mormon" is so inspiring and successful. The music feels incredibly uplifting. The characters are ever relatable. And the tap dancing Mormon boys spew sparkling energy into the audience.

From "Star Wars" to Maggots, "Wicked" to "Music Man" and from Hell to Sal Tlay Ka Siti, "Book of Mormon" delivers on all levels of theatricality. Billy Harrigan Tighe plays an eager, bright, often-bigheaded Elder White, anxious to return to his dream world, Orlando. White pushes sidekick Elder Cunningham to the side, but the two switch roles when White temporarily bails on the mission and Cunningham must "Man Up." A.J. Holmes makes a loveable, nerd-like Elder Cunningham. White and Cunningham find themselves in some ridiculous situations too good to give away here, and the unlikely friendship between the popular know-it-all and the socially awkward loner encompasses much of the show's heart. Unfortunately, some of the daring duo's lines were missed Wednesday evening because of sound issues at Fresno's Saroyan Theatre. Still, Casey Nicholaw's choreography dazzled, Scott Pask's proscenium and multiple scenic backdrops awed, and Brian MacDevitt's lighting design added to the overall comedy. Audience members are more than likely to find something in the show to complain about, but there's an even greater probability that they'll fall in love and walk away happier than ever.

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BOOK OF MORMON
Through July 19
Broadway in Fresno
https://www.magicspace.net/fresno/

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