by Roseann Cane
The Book of Mormon (the musical comedy, that is) opened on Broadway in 2011 after seven years in development. It wowed the critics, won nine Tony Awards (including Best Musical), and set a record for Broadway ticket sales, grossing over 500 million dollars to date.
Proctors is currently hosting a national tour company of the show. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of seeing The Book of Mormon, and you’re fortunate enough to snare a ticket, you’ll soon learn why it’s so popular: it’s unrelentingly, tastelessly funny.
Based on a 2003 episode of the television series South Park (and I unreservedly recommend that you find “All About Mormons,” which purports to tell the history of founder Joseph Smith, online), the show is a full-blown extravaganza, complete with an enormous cast, a wild array of costumes (except, perhaps, for the Mormon missionaries at the center of the story, all of whom wear identical white shirts with skinny ties and black pants), and spectacular lighting and sound effects. (At Proctors, the volume of the music was pumped up so much I couldn’t hear at least half of the lyrics, which is a pity, because what I did hear was crazy-funny.)
As the show opens, the ruthlessly chipper young missionaries are learning to which countries they’ll be assigned. (Mormonism, which is based in the U.S.A., exports missionaries internationally, relying on them to bring in converts to the church.) Two of the young men, Elder Price (Liam Tobin) and Elder Cunningham (Jordan Matthew Brown), to the former’s ill-disguised dismay, are sent to Uganda. Elder Price, an upbeat, competitive attention-seeker with all-American good looks, seems ill-matched with the needy, awkward Elder Cunningham. Elder Price attempts to cling to his polite persona, but between the violent militia that keeps the general population in a constant state of terror, and his pitifully annoying missionary partner, he is overcome with impatience and frustration. Poor Elder Cunningham learns that the man he considered his best friend has applied for a transfer to the mission of his dreams: Orlando, Florida.
But it is Elder Cunningham, whose rich imagination (he lies a lot) guides him to communicate creatively with the downtrodden Ugandans, who eventually saves the day by retelling the story of Joseph Smith interwoven with figures of his own fantasy, including Hobbits and characters from Star Trek and Star Wars. Thus he inspires a record number of baptisms, and wins the heart of the kind and beautiful Ugandan Nabulungi (Kayla Pecchioni).
Meanwhile, we see Elder Price waking up from a terrible dream in which he found himself in an Orlando populated by the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ghengis Khan. Realizing that he’d dreamt of hell, he attempts recommit to his mission. (To that end, we see him in a doctor’s office, where he is undergoing the removal of the Book of Mormon from his rectum.) The mission president, hearing of Elder Cunningham’s unorthodox telling of their sacred tale, arrives in Uganda to put an end to the heresy; shortly after that, the enraged Ugandan militant general appears, ready to murder the missionaries and the villagers. It is only when the baptized Ugandans reveal their understanding that Cunningham’s tales were metaphors that the church representatives and the Ugandan militants unite in celebration, and the triumphant Ugandans themselves become Mormon missionaries.
The Book of Mormon is not suitable for children. Its graphic language is not for those who are easily offended. However, what makes this show work is its outright silly juxtaposition of untethered, uncensored humor (nothing is off limits), and the aforementioned extravaganza of lighting, sound, costumes and scenery. Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker’s direction moves the show along rapidly and seamlessly, and Nicholaw’s choreography is a sheer delight. As for what might be considered offensive to members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, know that many members of that faith have been flocking to the show, and the LDS even bought advertising in the Broadway playbill. In fact, The Book of Mormon included Salt Lake City in its 2015 tour.
I hope it’s possible for Proctors to lower the music volume; I heard many audience members express their dismay for their inability to hear lyrics. Nevertheless, this was one of the most enthusiastic audiences of which I’ve been a member. As the show ended, the crowd rose to its feet, shouting, hooting, and clapping. We had a ball.
The national tour of The Book of Mormon plays from May 16-19 at Proctors Theatre, 432 State Street in Schenectady NY. For information on the performers please click HERE. Performances are May 15 & 17 at 8 pm, May 18 at 2 & 8 pm. May 19 at 1:30* & 6:30 pm. For tickets, click HERE. Run Time: There will be two 60-minute acts with a 20-minute intermission. https://www.proctors.org/event/
*The Sunday 1:30 pm performance will feature a sign language interpreter. To request access to this section, please call the box office at 518.346.6204.