Book of Mormon: Review of an unlikely Broadway classic

When the two creators of the TV-series South Park teamed up with the Broadway-famous composer of the popular musical Avenue Q and the almost too-popular Frozen, everyone knew that we were in for an upbeat, catchy, and hilariously inappropriate ride. Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon is a comedy musical about two young Mormon boys going on their mission to Uganda, where the optimistic but unprepared duo fall in love,reaffirm their faith, and end up spreading some unconventional views about their religion.

Inspired by their childhood familiarity with the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints), Parker and Stone sought to combine the happiest genre (musicals) with the happiest people (Mormons) in what they saw as an intuitive leap. And this odd combination certainly turned out! The musical’s 2011 premiere in the Eugene O’Neill Theater broke ticket records, and the OBC recording soared up to third place on the Billboard music charts. The musical also swept that year’s Tony awards, winning nine awards including “Best Musical,” “Best Book,” and “Best Original Score,” and getting five more nominations, including “Best Actor” for Josh Gad (Olaf from Frozen) and Andrew Rannells.

Drawn in by its awards, funny premise, and the memorable songs, I decided to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway over spring break. Though a few years old and missing most of its original cast, the musical definitely holds the same appeal as when I saw them perform at the Tony’s, which you should look up on Youtube if you’re interested.

The musical opens with exemplary Mormon Elder Price (now played by Nic Rouleau, who almost matches up to Andrew Rannells) preparing to go on his two year mission, the most important part of any Mormon boy’s life. Instead of being sent to his favorite place, Orlando, Florida, Elder Price is partnered with the useless and friendless Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill, who plays his character a bit subtler than Josh Gad, which is my preference) and sent to rural Uganda, a situation the two are completely unprepared to face. While Elder Price has determined that he (and Elder Cunningham, but mostly Elder Price) will do something incredible, the missionaries stationed there so far have converted absolutely no one on their mission; the local townsfolk have greater problems such as AIDS and the local warlords, and Mormonism just doesn’t seem to appeal. Plagued by issues of friendship and unable to repress his problems, Elder Price decides to reaffirm everything about his faith, and tries unsuccessfully to convert the local war- lord, a general whose name unfortunately cannot be printed in this newspaper.

While Elder Price breaks down and leaves, Elder Cunningham connects with a possible convert in the form of the town leader’s beautiful young daughter, Nabulungi (Nikki Renée Daniels, who sings incredibly), who is enchanted by the idea of the Mormon’s paradise land, Sal Tlay Ka Siti. Thanks to her efforts, Elder Cunningham is presented with the opportunity to convince the entire town to join his religion, but without Elder Price there, he has to do it without revealing that he’s never actually read the Book. Faced with the desire to help the villagers’ problems and with no one there to contradict him, Elder Cunningham makes up a version of his religion that is relevant to the Ugandans’ problems, but pulls more from Star Wars and Tolkien than from The Book of Mormon. Without wanting to spoil the ending, I’ll just say that from there, all of the characters learn some lessons about friendship and belief, and in the end, everyone is helped by their brand of religion (even if they have total doubt that god exists).

The Book of Mormon was hysterical from beginning to end, packed full with jokes about Mormons, musicals, and popular culture. While the language is a little more explicit than a lot of musical-goers would be used to and the writers are pretty frank about situations that would otherwise be avoided, it only feels gratuitous when it’s funny. It’s definitely not “PC,” when it comes to language, religion, race, or the human body, but it is refreshing as long as you can keep a sense of hu- mor about their satire; you should just expect it to be closer to South Park than Frozen and be prepared for what that means. Otherwise, the different levels of humor means there’s something for everyone, the songs are familiar-sounding to mu- sical lovers and fun for everyone else, and the actors did a fantastic job acting, singing, and dancing. While this musical by definition isn’t heavily elaborate on scenes and costumes, they were creative about using what they had, and there wasn’t a dull moment visually, either.

Broadway’s Book of Mormon is definitely a recommendation from me, but keep in mind that it’s not for any much-younger siblings, nieces, or nephews. They had me at “Hello!” and they kept me there until its reprise.

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