“The Book of Mormon” opened at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre on Tuesday evening providing Georgia residents with another opportunity to see the wildly successful and Tony-award winning satirical musical for themselves. Written by the creators of South Park, the Book of Mormon was originally here in Atlanta back in 2014 and based upon its success then has returned for another two week run. This is one book that everyone should experience for themselves.
Book of Mormon is a great musical with all the right Broadway elements; big musical numbers, great comedy and some wonderfully tender moments. While it has all those traditional components, it is also some of the best satire you could want to experience. From the uproariously funny “Hello” an opening number that parodies every homeowner’s worst fear when they hear the front door bell ring and see missionaries on the other side to its African reprise to finish the show, The Book of Mormon is one skewering of institutionalized religion after another.
The story follows the adventures of two new and mis-matched Mormon missionaries from completion of their training to their assignment in Uganda. The egotistical, and enthusiastically over-bearing Elder Price and the social misfit and habitual liar Elder Cunningham are first assigned to each other as Mission brothers to Price’s dismay and Cunningham’s delight. They are both subsequently assigned to a Ugandan village controlled by a local warlord to convert the villagers to Mormonism.
The missionaries’ conversion efforts are thwarted by the locals everyday lives where they are coping with war, poverty, aids, and famine. The villagers perspective on religion is summed up in “Hasa Diga Eebowai” a parody of Lion King’s “Hakuna Mutata”, a phrase whose profane translation is eagerly provided by the villagers to the shock and dismay of Elder Price.
Disenchanted with his assignment and his inability to convert the locals Elder Price abandons Cunningham leaving him to convert the villagers by himself. Cunningham succeeds by first embellishing and then completely distorting the Book of Mormon and its’ teachings to engage the villagers. Suffice to say that Hobbits, Yoda and Darth Vader all make guest appearances in Cunningham’s new Book of Mormon reality.
Are you easily offended by the inclusion of characters like Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Johnny Cochran who, along with the Devil himself, are the cornerstone of “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” the show’s biggest Broadway musical number? Does it upset you when the Lord’s name is taken in vain? Do you believe that Broadway musicals are not an appropriate platform for topical discussion of aids, female genital mutilation or implied sexual relations with a baby or a frog? Do you think there is no humor in Jesus Christ resorting to profanity? Then this show is probably isn’t for you.
But if you don’t take yourself or your religion too seriously; if you enjoy biting satire that lampoons many religious and social stereotypes to highlight their shortcomings then this is great entertainment at so many different levels. Parodying western cultures ethnocentric need to convert and indoctrinate others to their way of thinking is fabulously funny and worthy of this less than traditional treatment.
The two lead characters, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, are played by Ryan Bondy and Cody Jamison Strand. Bearing more than a striking resemblance to Jim Carey and Jonah Hill respectively, their chemistry with each other and the other characters is the foundation of the show and they carry it off perfectly.
Bondy’s vocals throughout the show are strong and have great range but are particularly good during “I Believe”. Jamison Strand’s manic characterization of Cunningham is perfect. Everyone in the audience has a Cunningham as a friend, someone who means well but you’d prefer to keep at arms length. Cunningham’s duet with Nabulungi, replete with double entendres is a highlight of the show.
The female lead, Nabulungi, played by Candace Quarrels has wonderful vocal range particularly in “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” and Sterling Jarvis as Mafala and Daxton Bloomquist as Elder McKinley are also excellent.
The Book of Mormon won 10 Tony awards in 2011 for obvious reason. It’s excellent musical entertainment and, like other classic Broadway musicals, will entertain you whether you’re seeing it for the first or the fourth time. There is ample opportunity to go see it as the production at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta runs through January 24. Book of Mormon provides you a great opportunity for a great night out and it doesn’t involve any reading.