Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Book of Mormon

Despite the song "Turn It Off," they really know how to turn it on in the Tony Award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon, now on stage at the Orpheum.

As you walk past the souvenirs in the lobby, you begin to get an idea of what's to come. Besides the usual coffee cups and key chains (and of course T-shirts) there are boxer shorts and umbrellas with crude messages that only become fully understandable when you hear the lyrics. Funny, if cringe-inducing, stuff.

The totally irreverent, off-color, in-your-face musical is not for the faint-of-heart, but it definitely delivers the laughs. So turn off your PC filter and your inhibitions, and sit back for a wild ride with Elder Kevin Price (Nic Rouleau) and Elder Arnold Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) to their mission in Uganda. It's a long, long way from "Sal Tlay Ka Siti," and Orlando for that matter.

Elder Price dreamed of doing something amazing during his two-year mission. And he wanted to do it in Orlando. But he learns that the self-absorbed young man ["You and Me (But Mostly Me)"] has been paired with Elder Cunningham on a two-year stint in the poverty-stricken country in Africa.

Elder Cunningham is a bumbling, incompetent follower who is excited with his posting and his "new best friend."

Their arrival in Uganda begins with being robbed at gunpoint by the local warload, General Butt F-ing Naked, who shoots people just to make a point. (Interestingly enough, I learned that his namesake, General Butt Naked, an African warlord, actually exists and was every bit as evil as the play's villain until his conversion to Christianity. Art imitates life!)

Joining the other missionary young men posted there, the two learn how difficult their mission will be. The people are being terrorized by the warlord and his followers, are suffering from extreme poverty and most of them have AIDS. Men are killed, women are being circumcised, and virgins (mostly babies) sacrificed. Hope is elusive and the villagers sing a song ("Hasa Diga Eebowa!") to cheer themselves up. When the missionaries learn that the translation is profane and blasphemous, they see what they are up against.

Okay, long story short, Elder Price tries and fails to capture the minds and hearts of the villagers – in fact he gets himself kidnapped by the warlord. Encouraged by the beautiful young villager Nabulungi (Syesha Mercado), Elder Cunningham takes over ("Man Up"). Because of his fragile grip on the Mormon teachings and his propensity to lie, he tells some whoppers to relate to the villagers' needs. But his motives are pure; he really wants the people to have hope and a better life.

And, praise be, it works! He baptizes her and the rest of the village follows, to the delight of the church hierarchy. In a hilarious scene, the villages put on a play to demonstrate what they have learned and Elder Cunningham's lies are revealed. The hierarchy, furious, sends all of the missionary elders packing.

Is that the end of it? Go see for yourself ... there are still six performances left, tonight,Friday night, and twice on Saturday and Sunday.

Okay, so this reads more like a synopsis than a review. That's because I am reluctant to reveal too much with details of the very clever songs. Running gags like Elder Cunningham's inability to get the beautiful Nabulungi's name right are laugh-out-loud funny ... some scatological, many drawn from other Broadway musicals ("Nala" for instance). I'd love to write a list of the names, but this is a family-friendly blog.

Who takes a hit during this show, in words and visuals? Just about everyone: Besides the Mormons, Catholics, Jews, homosexuals (especially homosexuals), even Jesus. And many more.

Penned by the writers of “South Park” (Trey Parker, Matt Stone) and “Avenue Q” (Robert Lopez, they comically pay homage to musicals, When you go, see if you can match the musical to the song:
Tomorrow is a Latter Day, The Lion King, The King and I, A Chorus Line and Les Miz.

Show highlights include Rouleau's singing of "I Believe," a song which is both funny and inspirational and sincere. It's a beautiful song with an infectious rhythm that will stay stuck in your head long after you leave the theater.

In fact, all of the songs are catchy ... I'm sure the soundtrack CD sounds great. And the songs lend themselves to some great production numbers and fantastic choreography (by Casey Nicholaw, who also co-directed). There are no weak links in the cast: all possess great skill at singing, dancing and acting.

Sets are very effective and draw us right in to the action.

The star's fellow missionaries – outfitted in the familiar short-sleeve white shirt, black tie and sans-a-belt, are hilarious (loved looking at each one in turn during the song and dance numbers), especially Pierce Cassedy as Elder McKinley who has learned to switch his homosexual desires and sings about it ("Turn It Off").

The villagers, especially the guy with the intestinal problem, are equally effective.The end result of the show is a message of hope and surprising faith. While not endorsing a specific religion, it does endorse a belief system ... something you may not have expected from the naughty lyrics.

I often say that the touring cast is just as good as Broadway's. In this case, it's more than true. Lead actor Nic Rouleau came from the role in Broadway. He understudied Omaha's own Andrew Rannells, who won a Tony nomination for his original role. Another star in the cast is Syesha Mercado, whom you may have voted for in season seven of "American Idol." She came in third (behind winner Dave Cook and Dave Archuleta). After seeing her performance here, she probably should have won!

So ... short story long, The Book of Mormon is highly infectious and surprisingly uplifting. I found myself smiling until it hurt. I loved getting permission to laugh at very un-PC things. If you are the tolerant sort who is not too easily offended, and you are over 18 (21 is better), then go see this clever musical – THIS WEEK. Some tickets are still available, but I wouldn't wait too long. Go "Two by Two" or more ... just GO!

Visit for information and tickets.

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