Regional Reviews: Seattle
The Book of Mormon is a Holy Hit at the Paramount
Also see David's review of New Voices 14
The Book of Mormon tells the tale of a pair of mismatched young Mormon missionarieshandsome, confident Elder Price (Mark Evans) and schlubby, needy Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O'Neill)as they go on assignment to impoverished, war-torn and AIDS ridden Uganda. They quickly realize that their previously in-place fellow Mormon brethren, led by the flamboyant Elder McKinley (Grey Henson), have made no strides with the Ugandan natives. After a falling out between the pair, Elder Cunningham is inspired to win over the Ugandans, with the help of the open-hearted chief's daughter Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware), by fabricating tales allegedly from the Book of Mormon, but owing most of their inspiration to George Lucas, Tolkien and "Star Trek." The locals respond ecstatically, baptisms are bustin' out all over, and Elder Price ill-advisedly takes on a local general with comically dire results. However, a review of the missionaries' performance by Mormon authorities that reveals the dubious nature of the natives' conversion, results in the elders being ordered back to the U.S. Does this sound like a show that would have a downbeat ending? Well it doesn't, though surprisingly the wrap-up is as sweet as it is salty.
Parker, Lopez and Stone's script is laugh-laden, uncensored, and unapologetically adult, their lyrics are uproarious and they winkingly satirize musical theatre conventions, though the pastiche-laden music is also tuneful as all get-out. Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker co-direct seamlessly and the show is the most snappily paced musical in recent memory, while Nicholaw's cliché-embracing but bubbly choreography is a delight, capped by a "Scary Mormon Hell Dream" sequence that goes over the top and keeps on a-going.
Mark Evans is winningly unctuous as the spoiled, idealistic Elder Price who can't get over not getting sent to Orlando instead of Uganda. His big "I Believe" number (a winning send-up of a certain Sound of Music tune) is a soaring moment in the show. Christopher John O'Neill is a perfect underdog as Elder Cunningham, and subtly shades a character whose clinginess and excesses could become grating. Samantha Marie Ware invests Nabulungi with warmth and dignity and her delivery of the mock-anthemic ""Sal Tlay Ka Siti"" (insert Alan Menken type Disney princess song) is rapturous. Grey Henson camps up Elder McKinley to perfection and ably leads the missionaries in the hysterical "Turn It Off," an ode to repressing your feelings. Kevin Mambo as Nabulungi's father Mafala and Derrick Williams as the General also register strongly in their roles, and the rest of the ensemble is tireless and terrific.
Scott Pask's scenic designs are always inventive, comically apt and eye-catching, Ann Roth's costumes show this veteran designer is still at the top of her game, and Brian MacDevitt's lighting design is outstanding. The sound design by Brian Ronan is not too well served at the Paramount, with missed mike cues and a general tinny quality throughout the evening at the performance attended. Orchestrations by Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus are notable, as are Oremus' vocal arrangements, and the orchestra, comprised of both staff and local musicians, serves the score admirably.
That The Book of Mormon is hard to resist, as pointed out by the fact that the playbill for the show has, amidst ads for coming attractions, three full pages of advertisements for the Mormon Church ("You've seen the play, now read the book"). I don't plan to read the book, but I'd sure see the show again!
The Book of Mormon runs through January 20, 2012, at The Paramount, at 9th and Pine in Downtown Seattle. There is ticket lottery two and one half hours before each show, and limited seats are being released through the Paramount box office. For more information go to www.stgpresents.org. or contact Seattle Theatre Group at 877-STG-4TIX (877-784-4849). For more information on the tour, visit http://www.bookofmormonbroadway.com.
- David Edward Hughes