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BOOK OF MORMON, total must see delight at The Palace

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

“Hello, my name is Elder Price and I would like to share with you the most amazing book,” states the lead actor in THE BOOK OF MORMON, now on stage at the Palace Theatre.

“Hello, my name is Roy Berko and I would like to share with you my enthusiastic endorsement for a most amazing musical,” states the writer of this review!

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the long-time writers of SOUTH PARK, are satirical comics extraordinaire.  Their writing marriage to Robert Lopez, the co-creator of the Tony Award winning AVENUE Q, is a union made in heaven (or at least in the Broadway version of heaven).

THE BOOK OF MORMON is a satirical musical filled with lots of explicit language.  It lampoons organized religion and, in its own way, not only follows the format, but mocks traditional musical theatre.

It tells the story of two naïve and optimistic Mormon missionaries who are sent to a remote village in northern Uganda.  A brutal warlord is threatening the locals.  While the duo is trying to sell the locals on Mormon scripture, the populations is more concerned with famine, poverty, female circumcision, war and AIDS.  Oh, what to do, what to do?

How did the duo get to Uganda or even get matched together?  Elder Price is the poster boy for the Ken doll, clean cut, striving for perfection Mormon missionary.  Elder Cunningham is a rotund, friendless nerd, who relies on half-truths and a vivid imagination to get by.  They were cast as a duo through total serendipity, an act of heaven, and some clever comic writers, to go out and ring the doorbells of the world.

Uganda?  Price prays to go to Orlando, a stand-in for Mormon heaven.  Sure, it’s immaculately clean, all things well planned, and the setting for a perfect life.    What can go wrong in a “Small, Small World,” where Dumbo really flies, and the future is ready for all who want to enter the Magic Kingdom?  Sending them to Orlando wouldn’t have been funny so to Uganda they go, to learn life altering lessons.

As Elder Cunningham, who admits never having read the mythical Book, makes up fantastic tales, which, in reality, aren’t far from the actual imaginative tales of Adam Smith, Brigham Young, the golden tablets, and the migration of the Mormons from upstate New York to Salt Lake City, he wins over converts.

After he baptizes the entire town, the church’s elders come to witness the miraculous success.   The villagers share their understanding of the Cunningham version of their new religion in a reenactment, which parallels in form to The Small House of Uncle Thomas in the KING AND I, with illusions to Climb Ev’ry Mountain from THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  Of course chaos results, then everything turns out fine, and we leave the theatre singing, I Believe.

The touring show is spectacular.  It plays visually and emotionally on all the senses.  From its giddy opening number (think the Telephone Hour at the start of BYE, BYE, BIRDIE), to its mocking use of four letter words, to its bigger than life melodrama, to the over-the-top mythology (often paralleling the belief system to STAR WARS), we are sucked into the idea that , as one of the words to the many delightful songs states, “tomorrow is a doper, phatter latter day.”  (I won’t even go into the concept of the song MA HA NEI BU, EEBOWAI! [“F-You to Heavenly Father], you just have to experience it to experience it!)

The settings, music, costumes, lighting effects, perfect comic timing of the cast, and creative choreography all work.

Though Mark Evans (Elder Price) and Christopher John O’Neill (Elder Cunningham) aren’t as brilliant as Andre Rannells and Josh Gad, who were in the original cast of the 2011 Broadway cast, they are excellent, and quickly captivate the audience.  Samantha Marie Ware is enchanting as Nabulungi.  Derrick Williams, is both hysterically funny and evil incarnate, as General Butt-F**cking Naked, the war lord.  The rest of the cast also shines.

Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker’s direction is spot on.  Farce, especially musical farce is hard to accomplish due to its required spoken and sung controlled abandonment, but these guys guide their cast with laser perfection.  Nicholaw’s  choreography is fun and well executed (ever thought you’d see a dancing kick line of Mormons?).

As the curtain fell on the second night’s performance, my seventeen-year old grandson smiled at me and yelled, “That was a perfect musical.  It had a solid score, meaningful words, the story was not only fun-filled, but made its points well, the dancing was spectacular, the performances were great.” Why are his reactions important?   Readers often comment that reviewers don’t see shows through the eyes of the general audience member.  Alex has been accompanying me to musicals for many years as “the kid reviewer” and sees shows through fresh eyes.  And his eyes were beaming!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  THE BOOK OF MORMON is an absolute go see production for anyone who is not a language prude or a religious fanatic.  It is filled with total delight, magical showmanship, a marvelous score, creative dancing and fine staging.  It’s everything a modern musical that is meant for pure entertainment, with a sip of philosophy, should be!

The few remaining tickets for THE BOOK OF MORMON, which runs through July 7, 2013 at the Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to