Review by Danny Gaisin
Admission of guilt; this scribe is a longtime fan of Eric, Kyle, Stan & Kenny (the ‘South Park’ kids), so naturally I’m an admirer of their creators -Trey Parker & Matt Stone. Along with Robert Lopez, this talented duo created the musical BOOK OF MORMON, and just like in that fictional Colorado locale, nothing is sacred and everything is grist for their destructive pens. Fortunately, the same humour that afflicted the denizens of South Park is subjected to an atheistic assault on the followers of Joseph Smith & Brigham Young. For what I know of Mormonism, read this column to its end.
Personally, the return-engagement of this terrific musical piece is a most welcome decision; given that I, like many others, missed the original Princess of Wales Theatre presentation. Seems a bad personal habit; I also missed ‘Jersey Boys’. Enough about yours truly; let’s talk Mormonism.
The plot deals with the Utah-based Church sending out young advocates to proselytize. The play’s two protagonists are sent to Uganda to spread the Latter-Day Saints’ gospel. One is a self-assured, charismatic type named Price and the other – Arnold Cunningham is a typical sidekick nebbish. As Price, Gabe Gibbs is a toothsome attractive young man with an expressive face and manner, as well as a pleasant tenor voice. Cunningham is portrayed by Connor Peirson who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ari Stidham (Sylvester in “Scorpion”) and amazingly mimics that character’s style and mannerisms. He quickly captures and owns the play. Peirson also has the love interest sub-plot and Leanne Robinson’s Nabulungi is the play’s other stand-out. Her acting talent, timing, and voice are both fascinating to observe and mesmerizing to hear. There are some strong support characters that stand out and among these, Oge Agulué ‘s General “Butt-F-ing Naked”; and Canadian actor Sterling Jarvis as ‘Mafala’. The other cast members whether acting or especially during the chorus numbers supply full contributory measure.
The pace is rapid and the tempo never falters. The direction by Parker and Casey Nicholaw who also choreographed Book of Mormon is incredibly detailed and specific…there are no moments where audience attention might falter; even momentarily. The sets; backdrops and special effects all provide a sense of Provo and then Uganda. While the music may not be of ‘Hit Parade’ standards, the lyrics are so clever as to make possessing the CD a requisite. Some of the lines will surely be engraved on audiences. What could possibly be worse than “Having Jesus call you a ‘dick”; or joining in the chorus of ‘♫ hasa diga eebowar♪ ’…until one learns the actual translation! There are double entendres galore; stereotypes; insults and paraphrases (the hilarious Baptism duet by Peirson & Robinson) that are hilarious.
During Act II, there is a riff during which the Ugandans present their take on the Book’s story. Think “Small house of Uncle Thomas” in Hammerstein’s ‘The King & I’. The incorporated tall tales, costumes, set and on-stage properties make this a highlight moment. A close second is the dream-of-Hell shtick with Gibbs being tormented by the Devil; Genghis Khan; Jeffery Dahmer; Hitler and Johnnie Cochran (the O.J. lawyer). Only one missing…Hillary C.
The BOOK OF MORMON may offend some, but I loved it from overture to final curtain, so did those seated around including a young lady (millennial) with a penchant for the musicals of the 40’s & fifties (South Pacific; Fair Lady; Oklahoma etc.). Definitely a candidate for this fan’s posse.
Now for what I previously knew about Mormons – they don’t drink coffee; Howard Hughes trusted only Mormons; and finally, the old joke about the Pope calling the Cardinals together with a Good News/Bad News announcement.
The Good News: – Jesus is back and has contacted his eminence. The Bad News: HE phoned from Salt Lake City!