Entertainment :: Theatre

Book of Mormon

by Kathryn  Ryan
Contributor
Saturday Nov 30, 2013
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Mark Evans and Derrick Williams
Mark Evans and Derrick Williams   (Source:Joan Marcus)

Referencing Broadway musicals, both old and new, "The Book of Mormon" remains at the top of the leader board in ticket sales for a Broadway production. It has won seven Tony awards, and if this production at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts is any indication, it will continue to add to its enormous fan base. It is an entertaining romp that builds to hilarity in the second act.

The first musical number is peppy as the audience is introduced to the dynamic duo of Elder Price (played by seasoned Broadway actor Mark Evans) and Elder Cunningham (captured effortlessly by comic and theatre newcomer, Christopher John O’Neill.) The ensemble of young Elders is also introduced.

These Elders, in the requisite uniform (black slacks, white collared shirts and ties) remind one of the chorus of nuns in "The Sound of Music," although they never wore black leather jackets in any of their musical numbers a la "Grease." The young Elders sing with vigor and dance; well, they dance the way one would expect a bunch of church nerds to dance, slightly out of sync. In the program Glen Kelly is credited with dance arrangements, but not choreography.

The premise is simple. In groups of two, the Elders are assigned to go forth and spread the "Good News" Mormon style. The most polished and perfect proselytizer of them all, Elder Price is paired with Elder Arnold Cunningham, a needy liar. Well, just suffice it to say Arnold stretches the truth to a rather large degree. They are sent off to Uganda in the midst of a civil war to convert the natives.

Most of the first act is taken up with exposition with the payoff in act two. One of the funniest songs is the satiric "Turn it Off," a how-to about avoiding life’s tragedies by turning them off like a light switch. The song reminds one of a production number from "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying."

Other songs sound like they come from musicals including: "Rent," "Hair," "A Chorus Line," The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "The King and I," "Purlie" and the aforementioned "How to Succeed," "Grease" and "The Sound of Music." Clearly writer/director Trey Parker of "South Park" fame, along with partner Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, know their musicals. In fact, at times the songs seem somewhat derivative. For example, when Elder Price has his epiphany, in the song "I Believe" the intro is a blatant rip-off of the opening of "I Have Confidence" from "The Sound of Music," both musically as well as lyrically.

The first musical number is peppy as the audience is introduced to the dynamic duo of Elder Price (played by seasoned Broadway actor Mark Evans) and Elder Cunningham (comic and theatre newcomer, Christopher John O’Neill.)

As Nabulungi, the love interest, Samatha Marie Ware demonstrates a strong singing voice, but at times her acting is a bit saccharin. Nevertheless, she is very watchable; she reminds one of Melba Moore in "Purlie" with arms outstretched and a wide toothpaste smile. Her father, Mafala Hatimbi, played by Stanley White Mathis, is also engaging. One of the most hilarious bits in the play is the various names Elder Arnold Cunningham calls Nabulungi. Not able to remember or pronounce it correctly, he refers to her with such monikers as Neosporian and Necrophilia.

In an homage to "The King and I," in which the king’s household staff reenact the story of "Uncle Tom’s Cabin," the villagers perform Arnold’s re-imagined "Book of Mormon," with the inclusion of three foot penises.

The various backdrops and set pieces are colorful as well as representational. Especially effective, the set representing hell is a large, red, vulva-like dome. The addition of a proscenium made of stained glass surrounding the stage is awe inspiring. It lights up and changes colors during the musical numbers and includes a rotating statue of a trumpeting herald on top.

As good as it is, this production suffers from lack of articulation on the part of the cast both in song and dialogue; as a result some of the humor and many of the witticisms are lost in the mumbling. Maybe that is not such a bad thing for some, as they might find jokes about mutilated clitorises and sex with babies beyond the pale.

Although they clapped politely and laughed appropriately in act one, the opening night audience was cheering and whistling their appreciation by the time the play ended.

In poking fun at the story of the Mormons, Parker and Stone remind us that all religious stories can be viewed with incredulity. How many burning bushes have spoken to you and how many immaculate conceptions have you heard of lately? It is in the way they reassure and comfort us that their truth lies. As a disillusioned Nabulungi is reminded, these stories are all metaphors after all.

"The Book of Mormon" runs through December 22 at The Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Avenue in
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33312. For information or tickets, call 954-462-0222 or visit www.browardcenter.org

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