Theater Review: THE BOOK OF MORMON (Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on February 20, 2020

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

I CAN ALWAYS USE MORE MEN

Well, here’s a national tour that isn’t resting on its laurels. Somewhat tighter with impeccably glorious performances, a golden angel high above at the center of a light-filled proscenium arch seems to trumpet, The Book of Mormon is here to douse your doldrums with a delirious, dandy delight. It remains beautifully irreverent without being mean. Far and away, this tour is the best of three I’ve seen. I loved, loved, loved it. Not enough to convert to Mormonism, but enough to keep me hooked on musical comedy until the next best thing comes along.

A much better fit at the Ahmanson Theatre then Pantages Hollywood, this wonderful collaboration by South Park‘s Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Avenue Q songwriter Robert Lopez exploits the inexhaustible vein of “fish out of water” humor: It contrasts young, eager-beaver Mormon missionaries on a two-year mini-crusade to proselytize and baptize with their less-than-converted African “beneficiaries.” It’s a marriage made in South Park heaven, where “Spooky Mormon Hell Dreams” abound.

The outsiders are caricatures in contrast. Elder Price (rubber-faced, indefatigable Liam Tobin) is as narcissistic as idealistic (his song “Mostly Me” says it all), deluded with theological grandeur but sublimating a ton of silent doubt; his ideal destination for healing the heathen is Orlando, a land rooted in faith in fantasy. (It may take some doing, but you won’t want to tear your gaze away from the muscular, tall drink of water blessed with timeless comic timing and double-joints, but Tobin is that magnetic.) Price’s self-appointed best friend Elder Cunningham (a buoyant, limber, loveable Jordan Matthew Brown) is a slacker of a follower, a doofus who never read the “boring” Book of Mormon and just wants to be somewhere new. The Africa he expects is straight out of The Lion King, but instead of “Hakuna Matata” (“no worries”), the Ugandans’ slogan “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is roughly translated as, well, let’s just say: a jeer to the Holy Spirit. Price’s awkwardness will endear him to the chief’s daughter Nabulungi (captivating Alyah Chanelle Scott); their duet “Baptize Me” is a tour-de-force of double entendres.

Their targets in The Book of Mormon are poverty-ridden Ugandans mired in war and AIDS. In a famine-ridden cesspool, where the general warlord named Butt Fucking Naked (Corey Jones) kills with impunity and mutilates women with terrible circumcisions — and where the village doctor (Isaiah Tyrelle Boyd) boldly proclaims “I have maggots in my scrotum” — these well-scrubbed Utahans mean well and offer zilch. What the boys do offer is a number which teaches Elders Cunningham and Price how to shut down feelings including closeted homosexuality. Given a terrific turn by Andy Huntington Jones as the clearly gay Elder McKinley, the toe-tapping “Turn It Off” is one of many showstoppers, given co-director Casey Nicholaw’s choreography — simply the best in years. Mr. Parker supplies the other half of the staging.

The opening night energy was a bit much; hopefully some moments will settle — it all felt a little pushed WITH A SOUND SYSTEM THAT NEEDS TO BE LOWERED — we need to hear lyrics more than the bass. Still, The Book of Mormon remains a perfectly packaged fusion of the satire our world desperately needs, and it’s both touching and furiously funny. The show filled me with golden tablets of faith that all is not lost for this classic American art form.

photos by Julieta Cervantes

The Book of Mormon
national tour presented by Center Theatre Group
Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre
135 N. Grand Ave.
ends on March 29, 2020 in L.A.
for tickets, call 213.972.4400 or visit CTG

tour continues
for dates, cities, and tickets, visit Mormon

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