“The Book of Mormon” is one of the most successful stage musicals to ever come along on Broadway. The show is as hysterically funny as it is irreverent. While retelling the story of John Smith and the start of the Mormon faith in America the musical is not for those offended easily, and the laughs are definitely at this faith’s expense.
The story tells of two very different Mormon teens about to go into the world and start their mission to convert those not following the ‘fastest growing religion in the world.’ Elder Price is a clean-cut, fresh-faced youth, dedicated in his faith. He diligently hopes and prays that he is assigned to his favorite place, Orlando, Florida. Elder Cunningham is a failure of a missionary, creating fabrications about his religion and his life, messing up almost everything he touches. The two are paired together and sent to a small village in Uganda, Africa. There they meet the villagers living in complete poverty, most of them infected with AIDS, and under the fearful rule of a violent warlord. When Elder Price reaches his limit of being tested with violence, theft and murder, he questions his faith and abandons his post (and companion) leaving Elder Cunningham to save the day by creatively teaching the village the true meaning of Mormonism.
The ensemble is excellently cast from the warlord, to the villagers, to the missionaries, already on the ground, are trying to save the people from a life of utter despair. All of them do a fantastic job with comic timing and presence. There are a few supporting cast members that stand out with their performances. Sterling Jarvis plays “Mafala,” one of the leaders of the village who, with the help of his daughter, welcomes the missionaries. His voice is strong and he knows how to use it for comical diction and emphasis. He stands out as he introduces the new Mormons to the village explaining how while they live in despair, they get through it with their own personal village saying “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (which does NOT mean ‘no worries’). PJ Adzima plays “Elder McKinley”, the leader of the Mormon missionaries in Uganda. Mr. Adzima’s comic delivery is perfect, precise and exuberantly shows with every step he takes. Showing how a true Mormon deals and suppresses his homosexual tendencies (being gay is allowed in Mormonism, but any action on it is forbidden) while trying to continue on his path of devotion. Shining in the rousing tap-dancing number of “Turn It Off,” Mr. Adzima is not only a ball of energy, but also one of talent and someone to keep an eye on in the future.
The three main characters of the show are the two missionaries and one of the African girls in the village. Kayla Pecchioni plays “Nabulungi” and she is as delightfully charming as her voice is intensely strong. She moves as if gliding her way about the stage, and sings with a wonderfully gifted voice. She exemplifies her hopeful dreams of salvation in the solo “Sal Tlay Ka Siti.” She does so with a powerful instrument capable of delivering tenderness with pure optimism while belting it out to the theatre’s rafters. Kevin Clay plays “Elder Price” as clean-cut as one could possibly expect. His enthusiastic energy is contagious as he resiliently tries to be the perfect Mormon missionary, upholding his faith and following his path despite all the challenges thrown in his path. His voice is clean and shines when he sings. In the breakout song “I Believe,” he reconfirms his beliefs in the Mormon faith that God is on a planet called ‘Kolob,’ and that he himself will, in time receive his own planet for his dedication to Mormonism.
It is Conner Peirson performance as “Elder Cunningham” that is the true star of the show. As his character starts off being the bungling sidekick, Mr. Peirson’s talent slowly starts to emerge until it fills the entire stage. Using his active imagination, Elder Cunningham teaches the village his version of Mormonism, getting the needed lessons taught with extreme creativity. He is a charming nerdy putz that ‘man’s up’ when needed and delivers the goods. His voice (purposely squeaky) adds to the character’s bungling, and his body movements are absolutely hysterical. Mr. Peirson’s Elder Cunningham is the perfect balance to the carefully adapted counterpart of Elder Price, and the two men look as if they are having as much fun on the stage as the audience is watching them.
The musical is absolutely a gem of a show. By the time the show was over, my face hurt from laughing so often. BE WARNED: this musical is as far from “Raindrops on Roses” as one can get, and is not for those that are easily offended, or those that may be rigid in the “political correctness.” But that is precisely what makes this musical work. If the show were written about Catholics, Jews, Muslims or almost any other faith, it would most likely be balked at and panned. Within the unique visions and regulations of the Mormon faith, the writers have found their niche and the show has become a huge smashing hit. Surprisingly, the Church of Latter Day Saints has shown little resistance to the musical, and even advertises in the program with a full page ad inviting the audience to investigate their faith by stating: “Our version [of the Book of Mormon] is sliiiightly different”.
Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez combine their talents to write the book, lyrics and music of the show. The music is highly infectious and pays a subtle homage to previous composers of the musical theatre world. The lyrics are as foul as they can be, while still delivering humor, a story and the lewd punch lines that South Park and Avenue Q have been praised for doing. No matter how you look at them, they are just obscenely funny and brilliantly composed.
“The Book of Mormon” opened on Broadway February 24, 2011 where it is still running (over 2835 performances as of December 31, 2017). It is currently the 20th Longest Running Broadway Show – and will surpass the original run of “Hello Dolly” before the month’s end for spot # 19. Having been nominated for 16 Tony Awards for the 2011 season, it won 11 including Best (Featured) Actress – Nikki M. James (Nabulungi), Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Musical of 2011. “The Book of Mormon” won the Grammy Award for Best Cast Album of 2012.