Winner of nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, “The Book Of Mormon” has been called “The Best Musical of the Century”, “The Perfect Musical”, “Spectacular” and so on. It opened on Broadway in 2011 to critical acclaim and seems to be going strong based on the lines flowing into the Civic Theatre on opening night. It is back by popular demand since it closed here during the 2014 season.
If you are like the thousands of hyped up fans to have either seen the show at least three times or are The Book Of Mormon virgins like many I know, you might have to stand in line for a lottery ticket* (unless you already have a coveted ticket) to get inside the Civic Theatre to see what the fuss is all about.
South Park co-creators Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone (Book, Music and Lyrics) put this irreverent, religious satire, equal opportunity offender together to critical raves.They have been reaping the rewards ever since it opened on Broadway in 2010. As you can imagine the Mormon Church takes the biggest hit in this fast paced musical with a brief and satirical explanation of the writings of the church. Other religions or sacred beliefs however are not exempt from becoming the butt of additional jokes.
The Book Of Mormon is touted as the reference guide to our journey into the writings of Joseph Smith. The audience is even encouraged to ‘read the book’, ‘The Book is Always Better”. With a more than competent- no -talented cast of singers and dancers (Casey Nicholaw, The Drowsy Chaperone, choreographs and co directs with Trey Parker) the show is notably in good shape technically with Scott Pask’s oft times far off scenic design, Ann Roth’s exotic and colorful costumes and Brian MacDevitt’s eye popping lighting design especially in “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” (a grand production number worthy of mention).
In the In The Beginning number we get a little bit of the history of the Book of Mormon and how it came to be with Joseph Smith as the ‘American Moses’…way back in time to The United States, 1823 in a village called Upstate New York. It gets worse before it gets worse.
Segue to Two By Two as the missionaries in training knock on every door, Hello. Now it’s time for the graduating class to be sent on their ‘mission’. Class favorite Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) and his least favorite of the graduating class, nerdy Elder Cunningham (A. J. Holmes) are paired off and sent to (not Elder Price’s first choice of Orlando Fla.) his never thought it could happen to him place, Uganda. Others were sent to Japan, (land of soy sauce), or Norway (land of gnomes and trolls) and so it goes. From the time they land in Africa, things get all rolled into one funny /raunchy/insulting/ or just plain vulgar scene after another, depending of course on your point of view. I’ll let you decide.
There are about sixteen or so songs throughout that are excellently performed. The more memorable to this reviewer were Turn it Off sung by the missionaries who are taught to suppress their feelings, particularly Elder McKinley played by Daniel Plimpton as the repressed gay character, I Believe– Mormons just believe- impressively sung by Tighe who is just right. Man Up sung by Holmes in grandstand form, rocks the house in this fast paced production. Both actors are in prime time form.
With the exception of the gawdawful sound in the Civic especially when the performers are speaking in accents native to their surroundings the sound gets mutilated. Two outstanding performances are turned in by Stanley Wayne Mathis as Mafala Hatimbi, the tribal chief and Alexandra Ncube, the tribal chief’s daughter. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand one word she was singing in her big number “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” or Salt Lake City where life won’t be so (rhymes with city). Her “Baptize Me” was a lot better and frankly, funnier. Brian Ronan is credited for the sound design but sound is a systemic problem in this particular venue.
Overall, The Book of Mormon might not appeal to everyone, but the show is fun if you’re in the mood. From my seat in the auditorium everyone at the opening night performance was in the mood to have fun, probably for the second or third time; my grandson’s did. Maybe three will be the charm for yours truly.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 6th
Organization: Broadway San Diego
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1100Third Avenue Downtown, San Diego 92101
Ticket Prices: Check with box office.
Venue: Civic Theatre