THEATER: “The Book of Mormon” @ Proctors, 3/12/14

The Book of Mormon

Review by Greg Haymes

AIDS…
Homophobia…
Jesus Christ…
Genital mutilation…
Racial discrimination…
Sex acts with amphibians…

No, not your typical topics for musical theater gags, but they’re undeniably there in “The Book of Mormon,” currently on stage at Proctors in Schenectady for a virtually sold-out run through Sunday (March 16). Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park”) with Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”), the wild, wonderful, witty production is the hottest ticket in town for a reason. And yes, it lives up to all of its hype.

Plotwise, it’s easy to sum up. It’s basically the tale of two young Mormon men – the straight-laced over-achiever Elder Price (Mark Evans) and his goofy, less-than-competent sidekick Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill) – who are sent from Utah to a small village in Uganda on a two-year mission to attempt to convert the native villagers to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Needless to say, hijinks ensue.

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Co-directed by Parker and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, there’s a heavy dose of parody running through the show, as “Mormon” skewers and spoofs any number of Broadway shows from “The King and I” to “Wicked,” and especially “The Lion King.” But in order to create a parody of a Broadway show, you have to first actually construct a Broadway show before you can deconstruct it. And “Mormon” proudly boasts all of the required Great White Way cliches from the archetypical characters to the strict narrative structure to the knock-out song-and-dance numbers (including the opening “Hello,” the blasphemous “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” the hilarious “I Am Africa” and the Act One closer “Man Up”).

“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” takes Broadway musical conventions deliciously over the top injecting lampoons of various historical and pop culture figures along the way, but it’s the woefully misguided, faith-affirming “I Believe” that provides the most bite, and emerges as the best song of the show.

To say much more specific would be to give away too many of the show’s gags – and there are indeed many laughs, stretching from snickers to guffaws to “Oh my God, did he really just say that?”

The show’s production values are certainly up to Broadway standards from the set and costume design to the pit orchestra, and the cast is first-rate, especially O’Neill and Price, the soulful, golden-voiced Alexandra Ncube (as the native love interest, Nabulungi) and Grey Henson (as the flamboyant, in-the-closet Elder McKinley).

For all of the snide satire that’s woven throughout “Mormon,” the show has a warm, loving heart and a sweet, uplifting message.

NOTE: All performances at Proctors are officially sold out, but a limited number of tickets may be available by lottery for each show. GO HERE for details…

SECOND OPINIONS:
Will Gallagher’s review at Discover Albany
Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union
Richard DiMaggio’s review at Did You Weekend?

The Book of Mormon

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