Directed & Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Produced by Broadway In Chicago
At the Bank of America Theatre
Crude and crass spoof of Mormons a light weight musical
I must confess that I hate the TV show “South Park,” so I was hoping that The Book of Mormon would be better. It was not. But, since the musical is a critic-proof show (that most critics raved), my comments are irrelevant. The show is a hit on Broadway; it has won many Tony’s; and it has been sold out everywhere it has played. It has had an amazing pre-sale here in Chicago. If you like “South Park,” you’ll love The Book of Mormon. If you laugh at the TV show, you’ll have a laugh fest with Mormon. If you enjoy, fluffy yet crude satire, then Mormon is your show. So, as a consumer advocate, I must report that the opening night audience laughed throughout, I did not. If you’re compelled to see The Book of Mormon, best you order tickets now since the show is white-hot! So, I guess I’m telling you that most theatre patrons will like, even admire The Book of Mormon, therefore, don’t be left out. It is a show that must be seen to either enjoy it or to conclude that it is the most disappointing, over hyped show in years. So see it and judge for yourself. I’m glad I saw the show. No serious theatre patron can avoid experiencing such a popular show.
Having said all the above, let me critique The Book of Mormon from a traditional lover of classical Broadway musicals point of view. The Book of Mormon is a light weight, low-brow musical that is irreverent but not biting nor satirical enough. Ii played too safe in its parody and mock of Mormons. It is too silly and too foul-mouthed; singing cuss words aren’t funny, especially when the F-word is constantly repeated. The songs sound like TV jingles or improv tunes despite the slick arrangements and too smooth choreography. The music has a college production feel.
The slily plot that finds two 19 year old Mormons on their obligatory conversion mission to Uganda, is filed with too easy attacks on Africans, the Mormon beliefs and the nerdy stereotype of young Mormons complete with black pants, whit shirts and black ties. This cheeky show has the Mormons all smiley-faced in a cartoonish mode. After the cute, opening number – “Hello” that depicts the Mormon house-to-house missionary campaign, the show continues with cutesy jingle0infested unmemorable tunes.
After a poke at Africans, there is the expected gay song “Turn It Off” that finds one of the Mormons desperately trying to not be gay. The arrogantly vain Elder Price (Nic Rouleau) and his companion, Elder Cunningham (the funny Ben Platt) trying to bond-actually Cunningham, the misfit, tries too hard to blend with Price.
There is the young African girl, Nabulungi (Syesha Mercado) who eyes Cunningham and screams and wales her songs. Act one ends with an uptempo, yet bland “Man Up” that finds Cunningham gathering the guts to tackle converting the heathens. This one-joke show (Mormons are naive geeks) permeates every scene.
Act Two accelerates the goofiness as Cunningham uses lies to explain Mormon religious doctrine while Price has his moment of doubt in the Hell showstopper number. But he emerges saved in his anthem”I Believe.” There are several parodies of classical Broadway shows here including a parody of the Uncle Thomas’ Cabin from the King and I. That didn’t work at all.
As the shows drone an, the one-joke reference continues as I waited for more biting attacks but the writers played it safe as they didn’t have guts enough to attack other religions like Islam. It is safe to mock Mormons, I guess? Too bad there are no memorable songs in this fluffy, light-weight musical comedy. I’m not a fan of crude, tasteless humor and easy, playful satire. The Book of Mormon is a funny, crassly commercial affair; art it is not. Where is Mel Brooks when he is needed?
Just get to see The Book of Mormon to decide for yourself if I’m right or not. I’m betting I’m the lone wolf here.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: December 19, 2012
Fro more info checkout The Book of Mormon page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W.Monroe, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000, www.broadwayinchicago.com, tickets $45 – $115+, Running time is 2 hours, 35 minutes with intermission, through June, 2013