No need to bone up on the Mormon prophet
In other words, leave the kids at home with a baby-sitter, or child-protective services might be knocking at your door.
Built for the irreverent Gen X faithful, all those aging slackers (myself among them) who get their news from
Not just a thunderous Broadway hit, it's a flippant assertion of demographic power, the razzing voice of a generation. Take that, baby boomers, who naturally have responded as though the show was tailor-made for them. (But then who else can afford all those still-hot Broadway premium seats?)
To succumb to the scabrous comedy of the show's creators
This national tour production gets the job done, matching the stampeding verve, if not the granulated sharpness, of the original Broadway production. The chemistry of the leads, Gavin Creel as the proudly picture-perfect Elder Price, and Jared Gertner, as the chubby, chortling Elder Cunningham, is a little more predictable here. The odd couple contours of these mismatched Mormon missionaries given the booby prize of an assignment in
Creel and Gertner stick more closely to the broad outlines of their roles, but the musical itself is so effectively wrought that it doesn't require special piquancy from its ensemble. Cheeky exuberance will do, and this company — under the joint direction of Casey Nicholaw, the man behind the show's snazzy choreography, and Parker — has it in spades.
Farcical cruising speed is reached immediately in the absolutely divine opening number, "Hello!", in which young Mormon missionaries with nary a hair out of place ring doorbells and sing about how the Book of Mormon can pave the way to eternal life.
Politely sharing scripture ("Did you know that Jesus/ Lived here in the U.S.A.?") as doors slam in their faces, these lads are almost too sweet for the mercilessness of the comic stage. Yet straightaway the song establishes the musical's giddy tone, a peculiarly winning mix of old-school Broadway pep, cartoon American naivete and slash-and-burn satire.
The score, an ebullient pastiche in which the authors of the show rifle through the American musical songbook on a sugar high, has a sophistication that is easily overlooked amid the hilarity. It's not that the music is particularly distinguished, but there's something utterly original in the way the playfully diabolic lyrics bask in the sunshiny Broadway sound (lushly drawn out by the orchestra under Stephen Oremus' music direction).
"Turn It Off," a tune extolling the many uses of repression, is made all the funnier for becoming an occasion for the tap dance bliss of Elder McKinley (Grey Henson), a Mormon missionary with a pesky attraction to men. "I Believe," a power anthem of the treacly modern-day sort, is given an acidulous twist by its rundown of some of the more controversial aspects of Mormon history. Was it
Of course religious intolerance and African suffering aren't funny subjects. AIDS jokes piling up one on top of another are cheap. Village leader Mafala Hatimbi (
Ultimately, however, the musical has more faith in Elder Cunningham's clownish waywardness than in Elder Price's bland ambition. It's Cunningham's penchant for fabricating stories, for mixing "The Lord of the Rings" and
And he is rewarded for his efforts with the affectionate interest of the charming Nabulungi (irresistibly brought to life by Samantha Marie Ware, who is without doubt the production's breakout star). If the wise doofus doesn't exactly win the girl, at least he gets to baptize her in the show's most blasphemously entertaining number.
There have been complaints in some high-brow quarters that "The Book of Mormon" isn't radical enough, that it blunts its critique with an ending that tries to make nice and undo any offense. This is silly. It's a big, splashy musical, folks, not a manifesto for a cultural revolution. The zeitgeist gets skewered — and not a moment too soon — but from within the feel-good, hopelessly optimistic, never-going-to-change-all-that-much tradition of musical comedy.
Parker, Stone and Lopez are hell-bent on reenergizing the American musical with their wicked brand of comedy, but they are just as keen on paying homage to it. And nowhere do they succeed more vividly at both than in the "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" sequence, a fiendishly witty showstopper that is immeasurably enhanced by the outlandishness of the production's superb design team.
"The Book of Mormon" has an insult for everyone and more than enough entertainment to fill you with gratitude when all is said and done.
'The Book of Mormon'
Where: Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays (call for exceptions). Ends Nov. 25.
Tickets: Start at $35 (subject to change)
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes