Thursday, November 8, 2018

"The Book of Mormon" at the Orpheum Theatre

NOTE: this is my fourth time seeing and writing about the 2011 Tony-winning best musical The Book of Mormon, still playing on Broadway, and still touring the country. It's currently making its 4th stop at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre, for just two weeks. I love it so much, and it fills me with such joy. What follows is adapted from my review from 2016, with a few notes about the amazing current cast.

If theater is my religionThe Book of Mormon is my most sacred text. Not the actual book of course, rather the wildly irreverent musical written by the creators of South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) along with EGOT winner Robert Lopez. It is a nearly perfect musical, and definitely one of most joyous musicals I've ever seen. One of the brilliant things about The Book of Mormon is that it allows us to laugh at institutionalized religion (and let's face it, there are plenty of ridiculous things to laugh at) while still espousing the value of faith in oneself and one's friends and community, and "working together to make this our paradise planet!" It truly is a feel-good musical that has the hugest heart, despite its unbelievably foul mouth. Back when it premiered in 2011, The Book of Mormon was what Hamilton is today - a smash hit musical that swept the Tonys and was an impossible ticket to get. Fortunately seven years later tickets are a little easier to come by; tickets are still available (including rush and lottery, click here for details). If you're a fan of musical theater (who isn't offended by profanity and poking fun at religion), The Book of Mormon is definitely a must-see. And since it's still running on Broadway and touring the country, it likely won't be available for regional productions for many years, so this tour may be your only chance to see it for a while. Don't miss it!

Kevin Clay as Elder Price
(photo by Julieta Cervantes)
The heroes of our story are a couple of young Mormon men who are paired together on a mission to Uganda to convert the native people to the Mormon religion. The two have opposite journeys in the story. Elder Price is the overachiever who has the perfect life planned out for himself, and has to learn some painful lessons (literally) that life is not quite that easy. Elder Cunningham is the schlubby compulsive liar who's never done anything right, until his well-intentioned lying saves the day. The Ugandans resist every attempt at conversion because the stories about an American prophet half a world away have nothing to do with the very real problems of illness and violence that they face on a daily basis. It's only when Elder Cunningham is able to make the stories more relatable that they begin to find comfort in The Book.

Conner Peirsonn as Elder Cunningham
(photo by Julieta Cervantes)
Despite the foulest language I've ever heard coming from the stage (no matter how many times I've heard it, "Hasa Diga Eebowai" is still uncomfortable to sit through!), The Book of Mormon is actually a very traditional musical in form and structure. And a huge one at that, with all the bells and whistles of a Broadway blockbuster - fancy set with many moving pieces, crazy costumes (see "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream"), big and fantastic dance numbers (tap-dancing Mormons), a fun and endlessly singable score. This wicked satire is equal opportunity offensive, finding comedy in serious issues like religion, evangelism, racism, violence, and even AIDS. So yes, it's a huge spectacle with shock value, but my theory on why it's such a huge and lasting success is that underneath all this is a really beautiful message of hope, friendship, and community. It's nearly impossible to leave the show without raised spirits and a feeling that perhaps we can make this world a better place, for all of us, despite the horrors that face many of us daily.

2018 update: Seven years later they're still able to find super talented people to fill these roles. And yes, Elders Price and Cunningham are always cast with an Andrew Rannells type and a Josh Gad type, but Kevin Clay and Conner Peirson make the roles their own and bring their own talents and energy to the performance. Kevin is charming and fresh-faced as Elder Price, full of youthful energy on such songs as "All-American Prophet," making it all the more fun to watch him descend into caffeine fueled madness. Conner is absolutely hilarious as Elder Cunningham, thoughtful in every unexpected and entertaining choice. In supporting roles, Kayla Pecchioni is lovely as the open-hearted Nabulungi, Andy Huntington Jones (last seen at the Orpheum as Cinderella's Prince) is a charismatic Elder "Turn It Off" McKinley, and Ron Bohmer impressively embodies (or voices) four featured roles. The entire supporting cast and ensemble is fan-freaking-tastic, playing so many roles with countless costume changes and pulling it all off effortlessly and with great passion.

the cast of The Book of Mormon (photo by Julieta Cervantes)

If religion is a set of stories, myths, and legends that we humans use to help us understand the joys, sorrows, and mysteries of the world we live in, then theater truly is my religion. And nothing fills my soul like The Book of Mormon.

Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai.