The Book of Mormon
Maybe it's generational. On opening night of The Book of Mormon tour stop at the Palace Theatre, I was surrounded by cheering, applauding people who seemed to love the show. I was reminded of Tallulah Bankhead's famous quotation: "There's less to this than meets the eye."
I wanted to enjoy itafter all, the Broadway production won 2011 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score, among others. Yet, I left the Palace Theater feeling dissatisfied. The music is so forgettable that I didn't hear anyone humming, whistling or attempting to sing the words or melody.
The touring production cast is excellent; the set supports the cast and provides plenty of visual treats; the costumes for the Uganda characters are perfect. The costume designer couldn't do much with the Mormon missionary outfits; occasionally, the Elders were other costumesin one scene, when every Elder is singing and dancing, they wear pink sequined vests. However, for the most part, the missionaries wear clothing that looks conservative and straight laced, but moves with the dancers.
The show is a gentle parody of the Mormon religion. Or, maybe it's a parody of all religious denominations. I'm still thinking on that issue. But, for those who giggle and laugh at every f-bomb or naughty line, they've missed the subject of this play. I've been helped by Mormon missionaries in Hong Kong and in St. Petersburg, Russia. Both times, I asked the men if it was difficult living so far from home for the two-year stint. They indicated they missed family and friends but they considered what they were doing was important to the church, to the people in the country where they were working, and to themselves. So, I went to the theater with my own prejudices in favor of the Mormon missionaries.
Mark Evans as Elder Price and Christopher John O'Neill as Elder Cunningham work together like a young Abbott and Costello or George and Gracie. O'Neill seems to be having more fun than should be allowed on the stage. At his first line, he immediately became an audience favorite. Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware) is the young and beautiful African girl who is the first to be baptized by Elder Cunningham. Ware creates a character who is at once young and innocent and yet a leader among those in her tribe. Ware plays this difficulty role with energy and determination and a glorious singing voice.
Elder Price wanted to do his missionary tour in Orlando, Florida, but he and Elder Cunningham were sent to Uganda, one of the poorest countries in the world, where they have to deal with poverty, famine, AIDS, female circumcision and war. They were not prepared for the life struggles in Uganda.
Somehow, these young men translate their training to do the good missionary work in Uganda. The changes in the Elders' lives and in the lives of the people in the community they serve give this story merit and make it worth viewing.
The Book of Mormon national tour through July 7 at the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare. Ticket Information: 216-241-6000. The production then moves to Washington, D. C. (July 9 through August 18, 2013) and then to Dallas (August 20 through September 2, 2013). For more information on the tour, visit www.bookofmormonbroadway.com.
The Book of Mormon
- David Ritchey