Theatre review: “The Book of Mormon” worth the hype

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From the May 22, 2014 edition

“The Book of Mormon” is the most-anticipated musical to hit Columbus in quite some time. The original Broadway satire from Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park”) and E.G.O.T-winner Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”) has won truckloads of awards and resounding critical praise.

The question is, does the touring version of “The Book of Mormon” live up to the hype? And with this weekend offering the last handful of performances, should you see it if you already haven’t?

The simple answer is a resounding yes. Checking in with last Wednesday’s performance, “The Book of Mormon” was an impressive, often hilarious and visually stunning romp.

Mormons are the butt of many jokes (“All American Prophet,” “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”), but any religion could be substituted. Parker and Stone don’t present an irreverent takedown; there’s a playful tone that’s above straight mockery. (It’s still odd the LDS Church bought ads in the program.)

The musical centers on Elder Price (Mark Evans) and Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill), two newly minted missionaries sent to Uganda. Suffering from famine, warlords, AIDS and worse, the African villagers have little belief religion will save them, as evidenced by Act I’s best number, "Hasa Diga Eebowai" (“Fuck you, God”).

The most spectacular aspect of “The Book” is the set design and costumes. Bouncing from serene Utah to chaotic Africa — and even the bowels of Hell, complete with Hitler and dancing cups of coffee — everything is vibrant, save for the traditional LDS garb, and charming.

Coming in close second is the choreography. The dance numbers are executed like clockwork, and presented some of the night’s biggest laughs. “Joseph Smith, American Moses” was particularly outstanding.

The lone quibble I had was an occasional vocal performance lacking power. Evans belted out “You and Me (But Mostly Me),” but lost some oomph in later songs. O’Neill had a few moments like this as well. These were by no means poor performances, but there was a trace of inconsistency.

It’s basically impossible to find any reason for missing “The Book” while it’s in Columbus, as it’s a delightful night of theatre with many excellent components.

Photo by Joan Marcus