By Manning Harris
“The Book of Mormon” finally arrived last night at the Fox Theatre, and it is a spectacular, relentless, scintillating entertainment. The national tour, sponsored here by the Broadway in Atlanta series, will run through Feb. 9 (an extra show was added on Feb. 3, too.)
Winner of nine 2011 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Vogue Magazine called the show “the filthiest, most offensive, and—surprise—sweetest thing you’ll see on Broadway this year, and quite possibly the funniest musical ever.” TV’s Jon Stewart said, “It’s so good it makes me angry.”
What could justify the torrent of praise and awards this show has received? Let’s see: It is a delirious mishmash of opposites. “Mormon” satirizes organized religion (not just the Mormon Church) and its rules, but not the people who practice it. It pokes fun at the American musical even as it glorifies it, and explores the dichotomy of faith and doubt. But mainly it’s just great fun.
Co-creator Trey Parker says, “We knew from the first reading, that the show lived at the intersection between a Broadway musical and a religious experience.” The Mormon Church itself has given its approval of the show: It even takes out program ads which say things like “Read the Book first.”
Be advised: The theatre ticket doesn’t say “Parental Advisory: Explicit Language” for nothing. But for this viewer and the great majority of the sold-out audience, the spirit of fun and humanity of the piece easily supersedes any worries about language.
Two young men, Elder Price (Mark Evans) and Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill) are sent out on their two-year mission. Elder Price hopes it will be his favorite spot of earth: Orlando—home of Disneyworld! But no, it’s Uganda, Africa. Oops. Neither was expecting that; Elder Price keeps his indomitable enthusiasm. But the goofy Elder Cunningham has yet to even read the Book. Another oops. And he makes things up—to help people. Isn’t that the essence of true religion?
They soon find themselves in a remote village where famine, poverty, and AIDS run rampant. The villagers are not in the mood to be taught some strange religion. What are our missionaries to do, and how on earth can you make a musical comedy from such a situation?
That is the genius of “The Book of Mormon” and its creators: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. They wrote the book, music, and lyrics. You may recognize their names. Does “South Park” and “Avenue Q” (Lopez) ring any bells?
The brilliant choreography is by Casey Nicholaw; the direction by Trey Parker and Mr. Nicholaw. Other cast standouts are Samantha Marie Ware, Ron Bohmer, Grey Henson, Stanley Wayne Mathis, Derrick Williams, and Colin Bradbury.
Sometimes plays and musicals have what I call a third quarter slump; too often the pace starts to lag. Not here. “The Book of Mormon” builds and builds; it says, in effect, “You liked that number? You ain’t seen nothing yet!” The delight and excitement in the audience are palpable. I’m not revealing any more of the plot; but this is a thrilling show.
And you have no chance to see it in Atlanta if you don’t go directly from this review to order tickets. Did I mention that “Mormon” has become the hottest ticket on Broadway, even surpassing the monster hits “Wicked” and “The Lion King”? It’s certainly the hottest ticket in Atlanta right now, and deservedly so.
This show is complex, multi-layered, sweet, hilarious, and brilliant. Now go forth and get tickets.
For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.com.