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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


The Book of Mormon


Phyre Hawkins, Mark Evans and
Christopher John O'Neill

Bank of America and Broadway Across America - Ft. Lauderdale present the touring production of The Book of Mormon at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The musical, which lampoons organized religion and traditional musical theatre, was conceived by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Parker and Stone grew up in Colorado and were fairly familiar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), which became the comedic focus of their musical satire. The two men co-created the music with Robert Lopez, the co-composer/co-lyricist of the successful Broadway musical Avenue Q. After nearly seven years in development, The Book of Mormon opened on Broadway on March 24, 2011, at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, where it is still running. The production received overwhelmingly positive critical response including nine Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards, and four Outer Critics Circle Awards. This hysterically funny show is not for the faint of heart. While it comes with a parental advisory for explicit language, it should also come with a general caution to all for its possibly offensive representation of organized religion.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries, Elder Price (Mark Evans) and Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O'Neill), who are sent to a remote village in northern Uganda. The seemingly perfect Elder Price sings of all he plans to do in Uganda in "You and Me (But Mostly Me)". Once they are there, however, they find a brutal warlord (Derrick Williams) is threatening the local population with, among other things, mandatory female circumcision. When the two missionaries optimistically try to share the teaching of the scriptures found in the Book of Mormon (which only one of them has actually read) with the villagers, they find them instead preoccupied with the harsh realities of war, famine, poverty and AIDS. The missionaries are ill-prepared to address the obstacles presented by these harsh realities and must find a creative way to pursue the conversion of the local population that is the goal of their mission.

Elders Price and Cunningham discover that their fellow Mormon missionaries, who are led by Elder McKinley (Grey Hanson), have made no headway converting the locals who push through the difficulties of their existence with the mantra "Hasa Diga Eebowai". While the song may sound charmingly akin to "Hakuna Matata", it actually is a crude epithet hurled at God. Still, the missionaries muddle on suppressing their frustration, particularly Elder McKinley, who keeps more than his frustration in the closet in "Turn It Off." A well-meaning Elder Cunningham, smitten by the daughter (Nabulungi) of the village chief (Mafala Hatimbi), takes great liberties in translating the words of the Book of Mormon to the locals in order to proselytize them. Though his execution is clumsy, his results are undeniable. All of the missionaries grapple with issues of the letter of religious doctrine versus the intent.

The Book of Mormon is intellectually a step above, and creatively miles above, some of the adolescent buffoonery featured in episodes of "South Park," but still derives humor from the crude, the clumsy, the irreverent, the anachronistic and the unexpected. Check your maturity and your sense of decorum at the door. That is where the show finds its humor—by pushing the boundaries of taste and convention. While the Mormon faith takes quite a beating, with its beliefs and conduct codes being presented in the most laughable way, it is all organized religion and societal conventions as a whole that are being made fun of. One cannot help but laugh in spite of all of this—the whole time thinking "did they really just say that?."

Grey Hanson is nimble as both comedian and dancer, especially in "Turn It Off." Mark Evans is a bit more three dimensional and realistic in his portrayal of Elder Price than his predecessors, and the pay-off is a more likeable character. Samantha Marie Ware has a sweet singing voice and a doe-eyed loveliness as Nabulungi. Her befuddled, would-be suitor Elder Cunningham, with his fumbled attempts at her name such as "Neutrogena, Nala, etc.," is played by Christopher John O'Neil. O'Neil is anything but befuddled, for, as a young, comic actor, it is clear he knows exactly how to handle himself on stage.

What makes this show so solid is the attention to musical theatre form and attention to detail. There is just enough character development, the lyrics are clever, the melodies are memorable, the choreography is as tight as one would expect from a heavy dance show, the harmonies are locked in solid, and the orchestrations are well written and cleanly played. With a beautiful blend of Broadway and pop the two and a half hour show flies by.

As ridiculous and offensive as some of this show may be, The Book of Mormon is indeed a favorite guilty pleasure!

In addition to co-writing and co-directing The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker is best known for being the co-creator of the animated series "South Park," along with his creative partner and best friend Matt Stone. Parker started his film career in 1989 when he created the film Giant Beavers of Southern Sri Lanka. In 1992 Parker co-created Jesus vs. Frosty, but his first real success came from the stage musical Cannibal! The Musical. In 1995 he made a second animated short entitled Jesus vs. Santa, which led him and Stone to create "South Park," which began airing on television in 1997. Parker has received five Emmy Awards for his work on "South Park."

The Book of Mormon will be appearing at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through December 22, 2013. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is located in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Presentations at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts are sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Support is also contributed by the Broward Performing Arts Foundation, Inc. The Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment Consortium is a cultural partnership between the Performing Arts Center Authority, Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Florida Grand Opera., Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and The Historic Stranahan House Museum. It is supported by the Broward County Board of County Commissioners as recommended by the Broward Cultural Council and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Visitors Bureau. Evening performances are Tuesday - Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:30pm. Matinee performances are Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts houses the Au-Rene Theater, the Amaturo Theatre, and the Abdo New River Room, and has affiliated venues at the Parker Playhouse, the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center, the Miramar Cultural Center and the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center. For any of the offerings of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts you may contact them by phone at 954-462-0222 or online at www.browardcenter.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.bookofmormonbroadway.com.

This Broadway Across America - Ft. Lauderdale production of The Book of Mormon is presented in arrangement with the Florida Theatrical Association, which is a non-profit, civic organization with a volunteer board of trustees established to ensure the continued presentation of quality national touring Broadway productions in the state of Florida. Broadway Across America is dedicated to creating memorable and accessible theatrical experiences for all guests, selling over 5 million tickets to first rate Broadway shows, family productions and other live theatrical events in over 40 North American cities each year. For more information or to purchase tickets through an authorized agent, please visit www.broadwayacrossamerica.com .

Cast:
Mormon: Jeffrey David Sears
Elder McKinley/Moroni: Grey Hanson
Elder Price: Mark Evans
Elder Cunningham: Christopher John O'Neill
Mission Training Center Voice/Price's Dad/Joseph Smith/Mission President: Ron Bohmer
Cunningham's Dad: Adam Levinskas
Mrs. Brown: Phyre Hawkins
Guards: Trevon Davis, Bobby Daye, Jamaal Wilson
Mafala Hatimbi: Stanley Wayne Mathis
Nabulungi: Samantha Marie Ware
General: Derrick Williams
Doctor: Josh Breckenridge
Ensemble: Josh Breckenridge, Michael Buchanan, Trevon Davis, Bobby Daye, Logan Hart, Phyre Hawkins, Jeff Heimbrock, Daniel LeClaire, Adam Levinskas, Laiona Michelle, Kevin Michael Murphy, Rashad Nayor, Lacretta Nicole, Jeffrey David Sears, Zurin Villanueva, Jamaal Wilson


Photo: Joan Marcus


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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