BWW Reviews: Worth Its Weight in Golden Plates - THE BOOK OF MORMON
The musical that has had theatregoers buzzing since its premiere, The Book of Mormon, has finally made its way to Madison. It's a show so full of lewd behavior that one would almost have to assume it was written by the men behind the series South Park. That shock value - however - is what makes this show so unbelievably fun.
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. At the end of the day though, 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, played by a confident Billy Harrigan Tighe is a great deal of fun to watch. Flashing his exuberant smile at his adoring audience never ceases to get his fans going. A full house like the one yesterday evening at the Overture Center is a perfect environment for Tighe's character to grow because he thrives on the abundant attention. His most "incredible" moment was most certainly his conviction filled "I Believe." Observing Tighe as Price when he realizes what the mission is really about is a really wonderful moment. Price can very easily be two dimensional, but with Tighe on that stage he is a fully developed character just as real as any other.
Even though this show is a farce in every sense of the word, its characters make up for the charmingly bizarre musical score. Even Forbidden Broadway, a show of actors spoofing different musicals, points out that Book of Mormon often does not line up lyrically well with the underscore. For fans of the show, perfectly alright - since, in true farcical fashion, many of the melodic chords are 'borrowed' from other shows ("You and Me, But Mostly Me" is a perfect mix between "The Wizard and I" as well as "Defying Gravity" from Wicked).
One such character that gives the show its extra 'oomph' is Brian Beach as Elder McKinley. His sass enlivens the stage as he blatantly sets himself apart from the rest of the missionaries. Despite his efforts to squelch his hidden desires, Beach sparkles the brightest in the ensemble tap dance number. His little quirks, though slight and easily missed, sets his bar a little bit higher each time he gets his turn in the spotlight.
One could not possibly forget Elder Cunningham. The awkward, lonely Elder who tries so desperately hard to fit in. Even Cunningham, played wonderfully by the darling A.J. Holmes admits, "Bishop Donahue says it's because I have no self-esteem and desperately want to fit in with my peers!" Holmes' erratic portrayal of Cunningham is spot on. He sounds entirely different from the rest, acts differently, and is fundamentally different from the other missionaries. Which is why audiences adore Elder Cunningham. He's essentially a personification of puberty that's obsessed with geek culture. As the show goes on, Holmes demonstrates his fine-tuning of his craft. Cunningham begins to mature while adapting to the new environment around him. He discovers a boldness within himself that he had not seen before - that requires an exceptional character actor. Making this a role in which Holmes fits the black tie to a tee.
The Book of Mormon sold out in a matter of hours at the Overture Center the day tickets went up for sale. There is no question as to why. 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 an integrity of wit which is what makes it so captivating.
"I Believe" that The Book of Mormon is one of the greatest pieces of musical theatre to have been conceived in a great deal of time.