Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON at Straz Center

Catch the Tony Award-winning Best Musical on stage through April 21.

By: Apr. 17, 2024
Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON at Straz Center
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Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON at Straz Center
Photo by Julieta Cervantes

On stage at Straz Center through April 21, under the expert direction and choreography of Jennifer Werner, whether you were a super fan like podcaster NerdyOver30, who sat next to me dressed in a starched white shirt and black tie like the cast, or overly uptight like the patrons in the block of seats in front of me who didn't return after intermission, you cannot deny that THE BOOK OF MORMON has a magic touch. Political correctness is thrown out the window, and you would never expect to be laughing at f-bombs, pedophilia, homophobia, racism, AIDS, female genital mutilation, dysentery, or blasphemy, but here we are.

An equal opportunity offender – I mean, what do you expect coming from Trey Parker, Matt Stone (South Park), and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q)- this scatological musical has it all – twisted, irreverent humor,  shocking-because-they-can dialogue, incredible vocalists, outstanding dance choreography with show-stopping numbers, seamless set changes, gorgeous lighting, special effects – and did I mention tap-dancing Mormons in hot pink sequined vests!?

THE BOOK OF MORMON is where two naïve newly-graduated LDS missionaries, armed with holy nametags and a black book, embark on a wild ride to convert Ugandans.

Though some references seem a little dated, the acting was exceptional. The cast belts out tunes with such power and clarity you'd think they were trying to convert the back row of the auditorium. Their voices are so divine that you might just find yourself whispering, "Amen!" after every song.

The golden boy, Elder Price (Sam McLellan), and Elder Cunningham, the socially awkward imaginative storyteller (Sam Nackman), are teamed up as partner missionaries who can not leave each other's sides.

"All my friends end up leaving me," says Elder Cunningham. "But you can't."

There's a culture collision between them and Ugandans plagued by poverty, the deadly AIDS disease, and a trigger-happy and angry warlord.

Musically supervised by Stephen Oremus, some of my favorite performances were group numbers like the opening and closing, "Hello," "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream," and "Joseph Smith American Moses," but the solos from Elder Cunningham, Elder Price, and Nabulungi (Keke Nesbitt) resulted in deserved resounding applause after every final note.

"Africa is nothing like the Lion King," says Elder Price. "I think that movie took a lot of artistic license."

The lighting design in the theater is like a cosmic group chat with the universe. Each spotlight slides into your DMs, saying, "You're killing it, sweetie!"—except it's not the Man upstairs, but the other man upstairs - Brian MacDevitt, lighting designer.

The costumes by Ann Roth are like a dazzling parade of missionary chic - crisp white shirts starched to heavenly perfection. And the Ugandan wardrobe? It's as vibrant as the characters themselves.

Scott Pask and Chad Parsley's sets and sound design transport you from the Missionary Training Center's clean-cut halls to Orlando, Florida, to the wilds of Uganda with such ease.

And when the audience gasps, it's not just because of the plot twists—it's probably because they've never seen Ugandans joyfully singing about dysentery before.

If you're ready to laugh, cringe, and convert,  THE BOOK OF MORMON pokes good (un)clean fun right into the heart of organized religion. This musical is a religious experience, a testament to the power of laughter, the spirit of musical theater, and a whole lot of heart. So grab your golden plates, buckle up, and remember: God has a sense of humor. If She returned, they'd have a front-row ticket to this show! Hallelujah and "Hasa Diga Eebowai." If you know what that means, the damage is already done.


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