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‘Book of Mormon’: Making me believe in musical theater

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February 18, 2015 / Volume XXXVII / Issue I

Who would have thought that South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker would come up with such a good musical? If you can tolerate a few offensive jokes and a ridiculous plot, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and hysterical ride with impressive technical work and sharp performances. Almost every song was a home run, with surprising humor and a witty script that deserves to be lauded for its consistent laughs and outrageous situations. The audience follows Elder Price and Elder Cunningham as they are assigned their Mormon mission to Uganda, where they laughably attempt to convert the Ugandan village they find themselves in. While the very nature of a comedic musical does not have the impact factor of most dramatic work, “The Book of Mormon” does the best it can, and I left the Straz Center very satisfied with my decision to see it.

First off, I need to mention the wonderful crispness of the set work, as I was in awe every time the story transitioned from one backdrop to another. While there is a period of time where the plot is developing in Uganda and there were a few unremarkable set changes that were simply doorways being swiveled around to make a pretend room, these instances do not begin to tell the whole story. From the airport of Salt Lake City to a beaten down village in Uganda and even venturing into a hellish dreamscape, the sets switched with pleasantly surprising quickness and simplicity. In the blink of an eye, covers were pulled away and different structures and landscapes were revealed. The most notable transition was probably when the Ugandan landscape transformed into a fiery cave filled with demons as one of the main characters, Elder Price, tumbled into a dream about going to hell. These set changes and transitions were so noticeably brilliant that I was left in admiring awe after each major switch.

While the sets and backdrops left me speechless for brief periods of time, the actors and their performances left me bent over the edge of my seat laughing. The Mormon Elders were adorably ignorant – having lived sheltered lives – and their lack of readiness for their exotic mission leads to laughable reactions and situations. Elder Price – played by Gavin Creel – was convincingly self-centered and driven, and was a strong singer. Elder Cunningham – played by Christopher John O’Neill – was Elder Price’s partner on their mission and as the second half of the main character duo. While he might have been the weakest singer of the actors, the Cartman-like character played the role of the extremely sheltered and socially awkward outcast and does an excellent job of it. You both laugh at the awkward delivery and content, while you feel for the character. These two actors shined, seizing the stage with their presence and evoking countless laughs from the audience. The rest of the cast did a great job as well, with an impressive vocal performance from Nikki Renee Daniels and a hysterically snappy Daniel Breaker. Every actor was on top of their game, and the production ran beautifully without any noticeable mistakes.

While the set work and the performances were stellar, the real strength of the show was the outrageous script. Trey Parker and Matt Stone incorporate several elements of what makes South Park so funny, and the off-beat retorts, silly situations and a lack of fear of where they are going are even more effective in the theater than they are in the infamous show. No matter what you are expecting while going into the theater, I guarantee you that it goes farther than you foresaw – and the ridiculousness of the situations are not lost upon the audience, as Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ make several historically inaccurate but laugh-out-loud appearances. It is unlike anything you will or have most likely experienced in a play, and I enjoyed the show and the plot immensely.

While it did not exactly impact me like some dramatic productions would, “The Book of Mormon” was a hysterically unique experience. If you enjoy South Park, you would enjoy this production thoroughly as it shares the same dark humor and satire that has made the show so popular. The technical work was astounding, and the actors were flawlessly on-key with the delivery of both their singing and witty dialogue. While expectations could never prepare you for this experience, “The Book of Mormon” made me believe in musical theater with its jaw-dropping set changes, ridiculously funny script and the confidence and vitality of the actors.

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