Review: Book of Mormon in Los Angeles, You Had Me at “Hello!”

Book of Mormon

Boasting equal parts of charm and obscenity, The Book of Mormon is easily one of the most controversial plays to hit theaters in the history of stage. Perpetually impudent comic geniuses Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, leave no crude stone unturned in the hit Broadway show. If there’s one way it’s appropriate or inoffensive, it’s that the Book of Mormon does not discriminate against anyone or anything: no one is safe from satiric roast in this play, as songs about AIDS, gay missionaries, an absent god and sexual fantasy abound. The utterly fresh play broke the record for biggest single-day ticket sales in both Broadway and West End history, and unlike other popular musicals in the world, The Book of Mormon is not comprised of well-known songs (we’re looking at you Motown the Musical), nor is it a reproduction of a beloved story (hello, Lion King, Annie, etc.). It presents an entirely original book and, as such, does not concern itself with precedent or obligation; the resulting product is pure, unabashed musical liberation. Read on to find out more about the musical everyone is talking about!

The musical follows the story of two young Mormon missionaries, who are sent to a poverty-stricken, disease-laden and war-entrenched Uganda. The town residents could not care less about Joseph Smith and his fantastic journey to Salt Lake City, but the piteously naïve and innocent Elder Price is determined to make a difference and alleviate their real-world problems by way of conversion. The dubiousness of his mismatched partner, the ultimate dweeb Elder Cunningham, played by the gushingly geeky Cody Jamison Strand, is the antithesis to Price. Cunningham is a clumsy pathological liar who gets the missionaries into trouble by fraternizing the holy doctrine with sci-fi anecdotes. Riotous miscommunication and woes ensue, making for the funniest, most hysterical two hours and thirty minutes you’ll spend at the theater. The musical numbers are remarkably impressive; from pun-frenzy ballad “Baptize Me,” to the uproarious f-bomb induced “Hasa Diga Eebowai” and the cheeky “Turn it Off,” each song is as well crafted, smart and catchy—thanks to composer Robert Lopez (Avenue Q). David Larsen’s (Elder Price) rendition of “I Believe” stands apart, primarily because it lacks the vulgarity of other lyrics throughout the show, but also because it boldly displays the vocal chops of the show’s star.

The eager Friday-night crowd at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood was made up of people in their 20s-40s and notably lacking either extremes of the age spectrum. There certainly was no one under the age of 17 in the theater—not that the show carries a minimum age, but its reputation has eschewed recommendations like “fun for the whole family” or “parents and kids alike will enjoy this raucous comedy!”—nor were there many people over the age of 60. Perhaps there’s something to be said about being smack in the middle of a wildly diverse LA audience, but there was no max exodus of deeply affronted theater-goers leaving during intermission as some critics report—oh wait, that’s just the reviewer who doubles as a theology teacher at a Jesuit high school who said that. From the opening doorbell ring to the closing revelation of the Book of Albert, the audience was hooked, laughing on cue to the myriad of jokes laden in each line. The cast was highly interactive, throwing in references to popular culture: the most hilarious being the Adele Dazeem salute in place of “Nabulungi.” In fact, during intermission, people hardly left their seats (except maybe to freshen up after crying tears of laughter), waiting in anticipation to finish the story.

As Pierce Cassedy (whose portrayal of closeted homosexual Elder McKinley is a highlight of the show) remarked: “I’ve never heard a Mormon say anything bad about the show. Then again, I’ve never heard a Mormon say anything negative anyway.” This provocative humor runs rampant in the show, but in the same vein, you come out of the theater, not carping or demeaning Mormons, but rather liking their innocuous and well-intentioned philosophy. And, perhaps, after witnessing the (albeit fabled) atrocities known to be true in third world countries, you’ll try to invoke the same sense of optimism and wholeheartedness preached in the Book after watching.

If that’s not enough to convince you, The Book of Mormon won critical praise from one of the most well-regarded critics in the country: Ben Brantley of the New York Times christened it into musical paradise by calling it, “the best musical of this century.” Not to mention, the Book of Mormon nabbed Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book, among 6 other Tony Awards. There’s a reason why each show is a sell-out across the nation and why people are coughing up large sums of money to be in attendance. The Book of Mormon is currently on its second national tour, with a $247 average across all dates. The production in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theater has been extended until May 11 with an average price of $166. The most expensive prices on tour fall in Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theater, a steep $330 on average, while the cheapest Book of Mormon tickets are offered in Columbus for $134.

When the Book of Mormon rolls into a theater near you, say “Hello!” and answer that doorbell. You won’t regret it. Unless, of course, you do.

Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune

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