I honestly don't know how to start my review of The Book of Mormon, which opened on Broadway two weeks ago and I saw last night. This is the new musical from Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez. Parker and Stone created South Park and Lopez wrote the music for Avenue Q.
First let me tell you what Mormon isn't. It isn't as crude as it has been hyped to be. While it does mock religion and the Mormon faith it isn't mean spirited toward them and portrays the members of the Mormon religion as real people, not caricatures. Is it the funniest musical ever? Not really. Does it have a great score that will have you humming the songs on your way home? Not exactly. Is the story creatively well crafted and breaks new bounds. No, the plot can pretty much be described in one sentence. But somehow, all of the elements come together to make a sweet, charming musical that both makes fun of organized religion and celebrates it at the same time and makes you laugh out loud several times along the way.
Mormon is one of those shows that has a great cast, a good book and score, is well directed and choreographed with imaginative set pieces and leaves you with a smile on your face. So, did I enjoy it? Absolutely. But for some reason my musical theatre appetite wasn't completely fulfilled and I'm still a little hungry after seeing it. Still, there are many hilarious parts and it is touching, so I'd give it a solid B.
The Book of Mormon seems to be the front runner to win the Tony for Best Musical this year and I'm ok with that. I guess maybe the glowing review in the NY Times and the early word about the humor and shocking lyrics just made me go in with too high of expectations.
So let's get to the plot: two young Mormon missionaries are sent to Uganda and find it's not so easy to convert the locals when you don't truly understand yourself and the point of the religion that you're preaching and when the place you're sent, Africa, is nothing like The Lion King. Like I said above, one sentence plot. Of course there is a lot more that goes on within the story including a very funny dream sequence that involves a journey to hell (a standard in the Parker/Stone world it seems) and some hilarious spoofs of other well knows musicals (does the pic above look like it could almost be from The Lion King?) The three leads are exceptional and the ensemble is given a lot to do and it is well directed and choreographed.
|Josh Gad, Nikki M. James and Andrew Rannells|
Nikki M. James is the daughter of the leader of the village in Uganda that Gad and Rannells are sent to. She has a wonderful voice and great stage presence with her co-stars. As the only woman in the cast with an actual full fledged character to play you would think she might get lost amongst all of the men, but she definitely holds her on. Rory O'Malley is the Mormon elder that has been stationed in Uganda and he is given a few moments to shine as well.
Parker co-directed the show with Casey Nicholaw, and the show is a perfect blend of Nicholaws' broadway background with Parker's somewhat juvenile humor. Though I'm not sure if it was Nicholaw or Parker (or maybe Stone or Lopez) that decided to add in as many references or spoofs of other broadway shows. Without giving anything away I'll just say my favorite two moments were the song that was a complete send up of "I Have Confidence" from The Sound Of Music and the second act send up of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" from The King and I- which got the biggest applause at last night's show.
For a musical that attempts to mock and celebrate religion at the same time it succeeds, though I thought the much smaller scaled show Altar Boyz that ran Off Broadway for several years a few years ago accomplished the task better with more sincerity. And for South Park like humor with a message and warmth, I think Avenue Q is still at the top of that list for a musical that accomplishes all of those things. And the funniest musical of all times I still think is The Producers.
Still, if you're looking for a fun night out at what is pretty much the hottest ticket in town, then I'd recommend The Book of Mormon, just don't let the hype fool you into thinking this is the second coming of the Broadway musical.
Teaser trailer -