The Book of Mormon, winner of nine Tony Awards, follows the story of Elder Price, a dashing, confident and daring model of a perfect Mormon, and the a compulsively lying, awkward, insecure and yet somehow endearing Elder Cunningham as they travel to Uganda to baptize a village ruled by a violent warlord.
Relatively accurate and entertaining retellings of Joseph Smith appear as snippets throughout the show and remain a gripping sub-plot for the audience. More importantly, the production’s 16 songs, ranging from whimsically amusing to tribally offensive, threw the entire audience into raucous laughter and immersion. The cast brought their powerful voices and aptly appropriate over-the-top Broadway acting, failing to disappoint anyone.
Comedy is a fickle subject and the humor in The Book of Mormon walks a fine line between crude and ingenious, using both slapstick and verbal wit, but that is expected from the writers of South Park.
In fact, Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez took that line and played jump rope with it. The actors chosen for the touring group did a fantastic job of bringing out the full potential of the show, both with their music and acting.
Mark Evans and his portrayal of Elder Price’s hubris interacts almost painfully well with the insecure and lonely performance of Christopher John O’Neil as Elder Cunningham. Both actors complemented each other to produce comical genius as the musical progressed.
The comical timing of AIDS jokes and colorful language got their fair share, too, having both exaggerated and casual presentation which mocked the style of classic musical theatre.
The entire cast had fantastic voices. Elder Mckinley, played by Grey Henson, has one of the most innocently violent voices. During the piece “Turn It Off,” Mckinley reflects upon repressing the dark and literally gay desires of his body, snapping between a twisted, dark humor of death and abuse to happy, capricious energy with the simple motion of flipping a switch.
The only cringing moment within the whole show took place in one of the most iconic songs, “I Believe,” where Elder Price sings about his conflicting emotions, finally coming to the conclusion that he must completely put his faith in God and carry out his mission. Although the realization that Mark Evans was British and had carried an American accent throughout the entire show came a bit too late, every time he sang the word “believe” sounded like an awkward honk.
The tricks The Book of Mormon employed are simply stunning. The Fox, which has notoriously small backstage space, has done a fantastic job with the scene transitions and backdrops.
A clever transition occurred after Elder Price, discouraged from scary warlords and cultural shock, dreams of going to Orlando, his biggest dream, only to be pulled into the Mormon community shared “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” With a flash of lightning, the over-the-top painting of Disney and SeaWorld crumbled to the ground, revealing a cavernous, violent yet beautiful backdrop of the underworld.
However, there were other contenders throughout the show that were equally impressive. One such moment was the dance break in “Turn it Off,” where the Elders clap their hands twice to literally turn off the lights in the entire theatre, only to return the lights with bright, pink vests strapped onto their chests while they continued to dance.
Which leads to the choreography. From the heavily tribal music to the sappy jumpy and excessive show-tune jazz/tap routines, these numbers challenged whether or not the actors and actresses would burn out. Glen Kelly did an absolutely astonishing and fabulous job.
In “Two by Two,” an exciting and delightful song where the newly-trained Mormons partnered up and got shipped away to different countries to fulfill their mission, the chorus line involved not only amazing music but also vigorous, large but precise show-tune sequences.
Not only did the dance breaks require a lot of energy, but they also lasted a long time and consistently entertained the audience.
Even though The Book of Mormon does not necessarily reveal the truth in being a Mormon, anyone will find themselves learning much more about Mormonism than they actually expected from the musical.
After all, who can resist such an engaging, hilarious and intoxicatingly endearing musical?