Performing Arts: Theater
April 6, 2011
Here we go again! White missionaries to the rescue! Time to convert heathen natives to the all-contradictory—I mean –soul saving Christianity.

When a graduating class of Mormons accept missionary assignments, tall, blond golden boy Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) is paired off with short, chubby, fibber Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad).

Carted off to Africa, Elder Price dreams of Orlando, Florida while Elder Cunningham just wants someone-anyone—even his parents-- to like him. Two by two the Mormon Elders infiltrate Uganda, braving blistering heat, maggots, murderous tribal lords, rampant AIDS, infant rape and uninhibited female circumcision. And you call that fun? Well, the campy songs, and perky numbers by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone make death and destruction pop to a Dr. Seuss-like musical beat.

But these aren’t your every day bible thumpin’ sorts. They wield the book of Gideon, and trade on the crystal-gazing visions of New York state’s Joseph Smith, buried gold tablets plus an angel called—no really, this is the name—Angel Moroni. OK, go ahead, crack a few jokes. That’s exactly what the Parker, Lopez and Stone triumvirate intended for their wily musical “The Book of Mormon.”

Lack of conquests in Africa and a frown lashing from the Mormon Church brass jazzes Cunningham into converting the natives by switching-it-up and telling “tall” Mormon tales. The sacred Mormon mythology passes from northern NY and Salt Lake City to the hobbits and “Star Wars” iconography. Much more colorful and useful in everyday conversions than any Angel Moroni, randy mouthed Ugandan natives succor spiritual enlightenment from the band of Mormon Boy Scouts decked in white short sleeved shirts and black pants palming The Book of Mormon.

Duly impressed by Elder Cunningham’s remarkable success, Mormon brass pay a visit. To honor the Elders, the Ugandan natives put on a play to demonstrate their true devotion to Mormonism. In a giddy flip on the “The King and I” retelling of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” the natives re-enact the Mormon scripture according to the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

In Scott Pask’s appropriately cartoonish set, fragments of the Mormon Tabernacle frame the proscenium and a disco ball splinters celestial light over the Mormon dust. Choreographer/director Casey Nicholaw kicks up some basically unremarkable soft shoe toe-heel clicks, jazz dance potions and traditional African body contractions. Still, the cast members give it their all.

Jokes about suppressing naughty (gay) feelings by metaphorically turning off the switch, blacks’ acceptance into the Mormon Church only after 1978 and Cunningham’s inability to articulate African names calling the lovely and dynamic Nabalungi (Nikki M. James) Neosporin or Noxzema keep the laughs coming.

But as my nephew said at the end “ya think this might offend some people?” Ya think? Politically correct it’s not, but it is a clever musical diversion that points to the grace we all feel when helping others and embracing and believing in something larger than ourselves. Unselfish acts yield spiritual laughter.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--By Celia Ipiotis

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