'Book of Mormon' hugely entertaining
November 14, 2014
Paul Hyde, [email protected] 11 a.m. EST November 14, 2014
An old Broadway adage proclaims that "satire is what closes on Saturday night."
Well, not if that scathing satire is as exuberantly entertaining as "The Book of Mormon."
The national tour of the Broadway musical sold out all eight performances at the Peace Center even before it opened Tuesday. Five more performances remain, tonight through Sunday.
Everything you've already heard about the Tony Award-winning show is true: It's raucously funny, with a hilarious script and a score of tuneful ballads and dazzling showstoppers.
The musical is also cheerfully coarse and nails-on-a-chalkboard irreverent, guaranteed to offend at least some audience members — though not the ones who gave it a roaring standing ovation at Wednesday's press opening.
It's a show that will sharply divide people with its full frontal assault not only on Mormonism but religious credulity in general.
I've been conducting an ongoing discussion about the show on my Facebook page, and you're welcome to contribute. Most theater-goers have been ecstatic, though one or two thought the show juvenile. One Mormon friend called the musical "filth."
Fair enough. Opinions will differ on such a bold, envelope-pushing musical as "The Book of Mormon."
Fans of the long-running TV show "South Park" will find themselves on familiar ground — one abounding in potty humor and foul language. "Book of Mormon," which won nine Tony Awards, was written by the creators of "South Park" — Trey Parker and Matt Stone — along with "Avenue Q" and "Frozen" songwriter Robert Lopez.
Need we mention that "Book of Mormon" is for mature audiences only?
The musical centers on an unlikely pair of Mormon missionaries, the narcissistic Elder Kevin Price and the nerdy Elder Arnold Cunningham, who journey to a remote village in poverty stricken Uganda, where a brutal warlord is threatening the local population.
Naive and optimistic, the two missionaries try to share the Book of Mormon but have trouble connecting with the locals, who are more worried about war, famine, poverty and AIDS than about religion.
There's much to love about the show.
The big ensemble numbers — such as "Turn It Off" and "Tomorrow is a Latter Day" — follow in the Broadway tradition of full-throated razzle-dazzle.
In fact, the show's creators evince an obvious affection for the great musicals of the past. There are references to "The Lion King," "The King and I," and even "(Ya Got) Trouble" from "The Music Man" — in "All-American Prophet." (You can also catch a subtle nod to dance innovator Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring" in that last number.)
The show boasts an ebullient staging by Parker and co-director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw. Dances are polished, vigorous and rendered with infectious energy.
The national touring cast is terrific, comparing favorably to the talent in the Broadway production.
Cody Jamison Strand is sublimely comical as the socially awkward Elder Cunningham, who has a tendency to merge verses from the Gospel with bits of lore from "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings."
Cunningham's love interest, Nabulungi, is played by the gorgeous-voiced Denee Benton, a radiant presence who offers a touching account of the ballad "Sal Tlay Ka Siti," in which Nabulungi idealizes Salt Lake City.
David Larsen, as Elder Price, takes on a lot of the big numbers, like the soaring "I Believe," and delivers them with punch and commitment.
James Vincent Meredith, as Mafala, is the soul of geniality as he sings the jauntily profane "Hasa Diga Eebowai" and Pierce Cassedy has some fine campy scenes as the repressed Elder McKinley.
The men's chorus consists of about a dozen Mormon missionaries, played with blissful smiles and endearing innocence — and they tap dance, too.
The rest of the cast is likewise first-rate. Some theater-goers may object to the show's pointed satire, but there's no denying the world-class talent on stage this week at the Peace Center.
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