You’ve heard about it, you’ve read about it, now here’s your chance to see the smash musical, The Book of Mormon live in living color at The Music Hall.
If nothing else, The Book of Mormon reminded me how lucky I am to live in the Garden of Eden, right here in Jackson County, Missouri! Actually, there’s a whole lot more.
Trigger warning: the language is course and some dance scenes are X-rated. The musical tells the story of two 19-year-old Mormon men, Elder Price (the amazing Gabe Gibbs, from the Broadway company) and Elder Cunningham, played opening night by standby Chad Burris, who managed to steal a good deal of the show. Paired for their two-year mission, the slim, trim Price, ambitious and shallow, and Cunningham, fat and prone to lying, learn their assignment is not to France, Japan or any other cool location. They’re headed for Uganda. Price is crushed: he yearns for Orlando, Florida, with its palm trees and Mouse World. Cunningham is clueless.
Without being mean-spirited, the show pokes fun at Mormonism and, by extension, at all religions, portraying them as essentially fairy tales that can be changed to fit the context of potential believers. In the dirt-poor village of their mission, Elder Cunningham tries reading the Book of Mormon verbatim to the residents in an effort to convert them. In desperation, resorts to, shall we say, extreme embellishment, adding characters from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. The villagers buy it.
The songs illustrate Mormon history and the feelings of the characters. Elder Price sings “I Believe,” which skewers Mormon teachings such as the origin of the world and Mormonism, that Mormons “just believe.” Villagers uplift their spirits in times of adversity (which is all the time) with the lively, infectious “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” Elder Price tries to avoid joining in the pagan singing and dancing but Elder Cunningham practically goes native with his exuberant participation. Only when he learns the true meaning of the saying (Fuck you, God) does Cunningham repent.
A truly fun piece was “Spooky Mormon Hell,” Price’s nightmare of being in Orlando until demons and dead villains, including Hitler, and dancing devils tormented him. The coup de grace was Jesus himself appearing to finally put Price in his place by telling him, “You’re a dick.”
The catchy songs are combined with great dance routines. Choreographer and co-director Casey Nicholaw incorporates campy dance moves from just about every genre of musical that at first seem like clichés. (Think of all the great rock guitar riffs jammed into one rock opera.) They are so precisely and perfectly executed, though, that it’s a real treat to see. During “Baptize Me,” featuring Cunningham and Nabalungi, the village chief’s nubile daughter (the wonderful understudy, Bryce Charles), their moves were so good the audience practically cheered.
Great supporting cast members include Monica L. Patton as Mrs. Brown (from the Mormon school), Sterling Jarvis as Mafala (village chief), and Daxton Bloomquist as Elder McKinley. One of the most spectacularly outlandish characters is the warlord General Buttfuckingnaked, played by David Aron Damane, who is enjoying his role immensely.
The whole show is tied together by a crack orchestra conducted by Alan Bukowiecki, featuring searing lead guitar licks by Tim Morey. The Book of Mormon is such an energetic, fun – and funny – musical that you can almost lose the message that true peace and salvation lies within ourselves. Almost, but I don’t think you will.
The Book of Mormon
Playwright: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone
Director: Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker
At: The Music Hall
Ends: December 11