By Larry Laneer
April 26, 2018
A touring production of the critically acclaimed, lavishly awarded, and wildly popular musical The Book of Mormon must contend with the show’s gargantuan reputation. How could the show possibly meet expectations? With a second touring production now playing in Oklahoma City, how could the show ever hold up to repeat viewing? Theatergoers, it holds up and seems as fresh as ever.
Now at the Thelma Gaylord in the OKC Broadway series, the production is the touring version of the Broadway production, with the same creative team and directors. And the show features an outstanding cast.
Trey Parker (who co-directs the show), Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone together are credited with the book, music, and lyrics. Lopez composed the music for Avenue Q, and Parker and Stone created the animated comedy South Park. Thus, you get an appealing score in a variety of musical styles and humor that has few limits when it comes to raunchiness.
Despite the subject matter and content, the show bears all the conventions of a mid-twentieth-century book musical. It’s about two young Mormons who just graduated from missionary training and are sent on their two-year proselytizing tour with their “mission companion.” But instead of being sent to someplace exotic like Norway or Orlando, they draw an assignment to a rural village in Uganda. Can you say “culture clash”?
You’ve seen pairs of Mormon missionaries roaming the streets. They’ve probably rung your doorbell. If you think they couldn’t look any more ridiculous than they already do in their short-sleeved white shirts and neckties with name badges that identify 19-year-olds as “Elder” somebody, you’d be wrong. Casey Nicholaw’s choreography (he also co-directs with Parker) is a comedic feature of the show unto itself. It looks like a parody of traditional musical theater choreography. He even includes a tap number. Plus, the cast does the dances with skillful exuberance.
Kevin Clay and the hyperkinetic Conner Peirson play the missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. Both are fine actors, singers, and dancers. Kayla Pecchioni is the sweet Ugandan, Nabulungi. The entire cast delivers strong performances.
The show’s strength lies in its skewering aspects of modern life, such as the preposterousness of organized religions. Granted, the Mormons are easy targets. The first act’s jaunty “Turn It Off” shows how people (and this doesn’t apply only to Mormons) deal with diseases, catastrophes, sexuality, or just the vicissitudes of life by consciously ignoring them. But the highlight is the second act’s “Joseph Smith American Moses,” where the Ugandans present (their version) of the Mormon story. The number employs ancient theatrical techniques, such as outrageous props, in unexpected ways. I won’t describe it more than that.
The production is top notch. The scenic design includes impressive wings and three-dimensional set pieces, which flow smoothly in numerous scene changes ranging from Salt Lake City to Africa, to, well, Hell. An ecclesiastical-like proscenium with an oscillating golden statue of Moroni at the top frames the stage. While heavily synthesized, the pit band sounds to me about the same as the original orchestration, which was for a 9-piece combo, including horns and strings.
The Book of Mormon opened on Broadway in 2011 (where it’s still playing). It first played here around New Year’s 2015. I wasn’t sure if the show would have legs after seeing it then, but the current production erases all doubt. It’s a classic. One of those shows you’ll want to see about every 10 years or so.
|The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone (book, music, and lyrics)
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 26, 8:00 p.m. Friday, April 27
2:00 p.m and 8:00 p.m. Saturday, April 28
1:30 p.m and 7:00 p.m. Sunday, April 29
201 N. Walker Ave.