Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review of National Tour of "The Book of Mormon" - Bushnell Center for Performing Arts

This following is adapted from my Broadway review of the musical.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the men behind Comedy Central’s long-running animated hit, South Park, have regularly incorporated elements of musical theater into their outrageously funny creation. Along with Avenue Q veteran, Robert Lopez, the threesome have written the book, music and lyrics to the uproariously entertaining, sometimes provocative, Tony Award winning musical, The Book of Mormon.  The national tour is at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, March 30th.

Anyone familiar with Parker and Stone’s work knows that some of the characters will be foul-mouthed and situations will be compromising and irreverent. The Book of Mormon delivers on all counts…and more. The production pokes fun at, gently mocks, and occasionally skewers Mormonism, but never maliciously. The premise of the musical is simple enough. Two mismatched Mormon missionaries, hoping for a plum missionary assignment are, instead, assigned to Uganda and shipped off to rescue the souls of this African nation. Mark Evans, is the handsome, squeaky clean, tightly wound idealistic member of the twosome.  Christopher John O’Neill, a dumpy, disheveled, loud mouth liar is his unlikely partner. Together they enter a world of poverty, AIDs, warlords, and indifference by the villager’s they are charged to save. Of course the harebrained solution to convince their disinterested flock to see the light is, in typical South Park fashion, off the wall and absurd, but would you expect anything different?

The book and score, which is surprisingly tuneful and inventive, veer from good-natured sweetness, as with the opening number, “Hello,” to the wildly subversive “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” production number where Hilter; Genghis Khan; serial murderer, Jeffrey Dahmer; and O.J. defender, Johnny Cochran sing and dance. The creative triumvirate pays homage to Broadway’s past with a vulgar take-off of “Hukuna Matata” from The Lion King, “Hasa Diga Eebowai;” and an equally inappropriate send-up of the “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” from The King and I, “Joseph Smith American Moses.”

The direction is crisp and sure-footed, with a dash of zaniness.  This is a production that is constantly on the move, effortlessly shifting from one scene to the next.

The whole cast is top-notch. Besides the two leads, the musical’s male ensemble of missionaries must be acknowledged. These six actors are an integral part of the show. Led by Grey Henson as Elder McKinley, the group provides some of the most hilarious, belly-laughing moments of the musical. Their clap-on, clap-off, tap dancing extravaganza in “Turn It Off” is priceless.  Alexandra Ncube, the sole female lead, the African daughter, Nabulungi, is sweet and innocent with a strong, clear voice.  One of the ongoing gags throughout the production is the way the character of Elder Cunningham continually butchers her name.

The Book of Mormon, a must for South Park fans as well as the rest of mankind.  Playing at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through March 30th.

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