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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


The Book of Mormon

A Separate Peace
Phyre Hawkins, Mark Evans and Christopher John O'Neill
Photo by Joan Marcus
The Book of Mormon did what few new musicals do these days: arrive on Broadway in February cold, with no previous tryout production, and immediately become a super smash hit. It had plenty of buzz and hype going for it, mostly for its creative team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone from TV's "South Park" and Robert Lopez of Avenue Q. But there was an established reputation, after seven years in the works, of being a carefully planned and put together show. This team wanted to do it right, and right they did, winning ten Tony Awards and being the town's toughest ticket (at the highest price). Handling cast changes much more smoothly than the previous super-hyped blockbuster hit The Producers, Mormon seems to have many years of success ahead before it runs out of steam. The first national tour and the "second national tour" (so far, sitting down in Chicago) have both broken sales and attendance records around the country and the West End reception has been grand as well.

Appearing at the Benedum Center, the current tour features a young cast: two of the principals, Christopher John O'Neill (Elder Cunningham) and Grey Henson (Elder McKinley), are making their professional debut. And it confirms to those of us who follow college musical theatre that the pool of young talent is ready for such exposure. Along with O'Neill and Henson, Mark Evans (Elder Price) and Samantha Marie Ware (Nabulungi) are able to carry this huge show quite proficiently.

The story of two young members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who are challenged by the a mission assignment in Uganda, The Book of Mormon is also a CliffsNotes/comic book guide to Mormonism, presented within the satirical, cynical, irreverent, ironic and R-rated milieu of Parker and Stone. The show is packed with original and clever humor, through the dialogue and the lyrics, as well as the staging and even the orchestrations. It's all pretty damn funny. Yet there is a heart to the show that prevents it from being mean spirited or making you squirm. What is really lampooned here are all religions, all faiths—in fact, it's what people believe in that is examined and found useful, in a slightly twisted way. That's my take—the structure of the show allows for various interpretations of what the team is saying here.

The touring production is successful in so many ways. Scott Pask's Broadway scenic design is recreated at a very high level of detail, Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker's direction translates well, and Nicholaw's brilliant choreography feels fresh. What stands out the most, compared to other tours and even Broadway productions, is that every lyric is clear and discernible—credit to the performers, the lyricist, the directors and sound designer Brian Ronan. There are a lot of songs, and a lot of humor is found in the careful structure of the lyrics. It's sometimes beneficial to go into a show knowing the songs because the lyrics can be lost, but not here. Also easily heard are the musical bons mots provided by Larry Ochman and Stephen Oremus' orchestrations, which combine with the homages written in the score (listen for tips to Wicked, The Lion King and The Sound of Music—and I swear the beginning of "Tomorrow Is a Latter Day" sounds like a Teddy Ruxpin song) to add depth to the show.

The Book of Mormon continues at the Benedum Center through April 7. or tickets and performance information, visit Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. For more information on the tour visit www.bookofmormonbroadway.com/tour_page.php.


See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.


-- Ann Miner



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