As I walked down Hennepin avenue, I was greeted by a group of young men and women. They offered me free books about their religion. I politely declined (even though I’m not interested, no use in being mean!) and continued on my way to the Orpheum theatre with Hennepin Theatre Trust to see another fantastic musical. That’s right, free books about religion outside of a show? There could only be one possibility -- The Book of Mormon musical has returned to the Twin Cities. This 13 time Tony-award nominee won nine Tony awards in 2011 including Best Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Book and Best Original score. It also won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album with the original cast starring popular names like Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad.
The Book of Mormon is about two young missionaries and their mission trip once they’ve reached the age 19. The Church of Latter-day Saints golden boy Elder Price and the insecure compulsive liar Elder Cunningham get paired up for a two year journey to spread the word of Christ. While Elder Price believes he’ll be sent to his favorite place in the world, Orlando while Cunningham prays that he’ll be paired with Price. Things don’t go exactly as planned for Price as they get partnered and send up being sent from Salt Lake City to Uganda, Africa where they learn that an evil warlord by the name of General Butt Fucking Naked - yes, you read that right - is oppressing local villages. It’s up to these two young Mormons to defy the odds and preach the Mormon religion to turn this village around.
The show was written by the creators of South Park so I’ll start by saying it is not for the faint of heart. Even the ticket has a bolded statement of parental advisory for explicit language however that shouldn’t stop you because it truly is a work of genius. It’s witty, smart and clever as H E double hockey sticks. While it is a comedy, the music and dance numbers - yup singing and dancing Mormon chorus boys - it is written to feel like a Broadway musical. It’s one of the catchiest soundtracks in Broadway.
While the plot makes light of various Mormon beliefs and practices it ultimately is a parody of all churches and organized religion. It also endorses the positive power of love and service to something no matter what you believe in. The Book of Mormon also defies the structure and plot of a typical musical in which the main character saves everyone for a happy ending. Where you’d think Elder Price would be the one to save everyone, it’s actually the “screw up” Elder Cunningham that saves the day which is a refreshing take on heroism.
For a traveling show - and really any show in general - the set is fairly spectacular with a lot of moving parts. Designer Scott Pask takes us on a journey through the the Church, an airport, Africa, the village, a spooky hell dream and more. It includes a variety of beautiful flown in back drops along with moving set pieces to depict village huts and bridges. The detail is spot on and there is always something visual on stage to gawk at. However don’t gawk too long because you won’t want to miss gifted cast.
You need a well versed cast in this show because while it is more of a modern plot, the style is very classic Broadway in song and technical dance routines including a killer tap scene. The ensemble is poised and perfected while the leads kept the show going at a nice pace. It felt like it flew by even though it was the average show length. Kevin Clay, who plays Elder Price, is spot on with his portrayal as the goody-two shoes perfect mormon boy model. A bit pitchy at times with some of the higher belts but overall amazing performance. Nabulungi, played by Kayla Pecchioni, controls her voice to unimaginable lengths with crazy runs and belts that left the audience shouting in the middle of the show.
Out of everyone in the show, there was no one that made me laugh harder than Elder Cunningham, played by Connor Peirson. With a similar charm of the original Josh Gad, he still managed to shine through with his own unique flair. He stole virtually every scene with his quick wit and hilarious delivery. The role can be difficult to play because I believe actors can easily go too far and just be annoying with it, however Peirson never came close to that. He always was in check and kept the laughs coming all night.
Overall, while The Book of Mormon is wildly inappropriate, full of profanity and sexual innuendos it’s actually a rather sweet musical with an overarching story and theme of acceptance and a commitment to something other than yourself. This past week, the Broadway run had a lot to celebrate as it became the longest inhabitant of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York City. The show has grossed over $500 million so I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon but who knows when it’ll be back in the Twin Cities so be sure to see it here before it heads off to ring doorbells in another city!
The Book of Mormon runs now through Nov. 18 at the Orpheum Theatre through Hennepin Theatre Trust.