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The Book of Mormon, Eugene O'Neil Theater, Saturday, July 27th, 2013, Reviewed

lampooning Mormonism
















When you are selected as the “Rock NYC Employee of the Month,” the swag comes in waves, like hookers at a political convention.  Sure, there’s the nice plaque, suitable for tossing in your closet, and free parking at a Mets home stand (you ain’t getting any freebies from Steinbrenner).   Additionally, you get a steak dinner for you and your family (and appetizers!  and dessert!).  Of course, the piece de resistance is the complimentary tickets to a Broadway production.  I swear, that Iman Lababedi chap must be dipped in glue and rolled through Fort Knox on a weekly basis.  

“The Book of Mormon” isn’t the New Testament on the Broadway block,  it debuted in 2011 and quickly won nine Tony Awards.  You are probably familiar with the concept, a musical satire of the Mormon faith written by the creators of “South Park,” Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with assistance from Robert Lopez.  There are only two minor problems with this musical comedy.  The music and the comedy.  However, the entire audience including my wife and children enjoyed it.

There isn’t much to the plot.  An odd couple of missionaries, Elder Kevin Price and Elder Arnold Cunningham, are sent to Uganda to convert the natives.  Elder Price ( portrayed by Matt Doyle) is the handsome, golden boy, beloved by peers and parents.  Elder Cunningham (portrayed by Cody Jamison Strand) is chubby and socially awkward.  The self-absorbed Price has his faith shaken by not being sent to his dream location – Orlando.  Cunningham is just elated to have a “friend.”

There’s nothing to criticize in the quality of the performances, the chipmunk voiced Strand was a fine comedic lead, even if some of the choreography was reminiscent of Chris Farley’s Chippendale dancer routine.  He also had excellent stage chemistry with female lead Tyson Jennette, who portrayed villager Mafali Hatimbi.  Religion, as you might know, is a bit of a touchy subject and this lampoons Mormonism with a hammer instead of with a scalpel.  It’s a difficult balance act to satirize organized religion, which  begs to be spoofed but is almost too easy of a target.  Relying on a parade of gratuitous f-bombs and a running declaration of “I have maggots in my scrotum!,” just isn’t terribly clever.

The music is almost all plot line narrative, with some cute numbers but nothing substantial.  Perhaps the best song is “I Believe,” with its faith over reason tagline, “I am a Mormon and a Mormon just believes.”  On the well scrubbed, white missionary troop number “I Am Africa,” the writers have their best marriage of comedy and music. “The Spooky Mormon Hell” dream sequence was well staged, with Hitler and Johnny Cochran joining dancing  Starbucks  Cups in Hades, in some absurdism reminiscent of Mel Brooks.

However in a production where one of the big laugh lines is, “Do you really think that a man fucked a frog?,” the celebration is in the irreverence, not in any intellectual enlightenment.  Years ago, I visited Navoo, Illinois, a former settlement of “the prophet” (har har) Joseph Smith on his pilgrimage through eviction that ultimately ended in Salt Lake City.  In any event, Mormons from all over the country compete for spots in a play, dance production, and music concert that is given daily as a marketing vehicle for their faith.  While being surrounded by starry eyes true believers that sob when talking about the prophet has its own undeniable weirdness factor, I was more legitimately entertained by the true Mormons that day than by the clever, self-congratulatory Broadway spoofers.

Grade – C plus.

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