Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Book of Mormon
National Tour
Review by Mark Horning


The Cast
Photo by Joan Marcus
The Book of Mormon is back at Playhouse Square in all its irreverent glory (think Avenue Q meets Sister Act). First staged in 2011 with script, lyrics and music by Robert Lopez and "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show is a skewed look into the missionary life of elders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Surprisingly, while the LDS Church did not promote the show, it did not condemn it either, as it was found that it led to audience members seeking more information about the church.

Elders Price and Cunningham meet for the first time at a Mormon Missionary Training Center. Price is a "super Mormon" brimming with 19-year-old confidence that he will change the world if sent to one of the "prime" mission locations. He is tall, muscular, handsome and confident as well as a true follower of the Church. Elder Cunningham is less so, being a bit on the chubby side, totally lacking in confidence and friendless, and with a penchant for stretching the truth in order to fit in. He also has never read the complete Book of Mormon because "it's boring."

These two polar opposites are suddenly thrown together and sent to a backwaters mission in Uganda, where the inhabitants battle AIDS, famine, and atrocities perpetrated upon them by a local warlord, General Butt Fucking Naked. The faith of the people has gotten so low that the only relief from their struggles is to sing a song called "Fuck You, God." On top of that, the current team of missionaries has zero baptisms to account for, with an impending visit from their mission president drawing near.

When Elder Price witnesses the brutal shooting of a villager by the warlord, his faith is shaken to the core and his only wish is to leave this godforsaken area and return to the United States to serve his mission in his version of paradise, Orlando, Florida. Meanwhile, Elder Cunningham becomes friends with a young village girl, Nabulungi (a name that Cunningham hilariously mispronounces through the entire show), who has expressed a desire to learn more about the Church. While teaching some of the villagers from the Book of Mormon, the young elder finds that he is losing their attention, so he suddenly resorts to lies, fabrications and fantasy in order to keep his audience. Calling upon his extensive nerd knowledge of "Star Trek," Star Wars, and "The Lord of the Rings" trivia, Elder Cunningham weaves a fantastic tale concerning the early history of the Church, thus convincing the villagers to be baptized.

Gabe Gibbs as Elder Price perfectly fits the role, with good looks and a can-do attitude. He also transforms nicely when a touch of humility is added to his character. Conner Peirson as Elder Cunningham steals the show with his stuttering and awkward persona, especially when interacting with Nabulungi. The two young actors pair off well together as they emphasize each other's strengths.

Oge Agulué as the General plays the meanie right to the end, but with a hilarious twist in the final song that had the audience howling with laughter. Myha'la Herrold as Nabulungi acts and sings her way into the audience's hearts. Everyone in the cast shines, with amazing voices, especially during the ensemble numbers that fill the large theater with wall to wall song. The choreography by Casey Nicholaw is excellent and the costume changes (sometimes in mid-song) are flawless (costume design by Ann Roth). Kudos to the stage crew for their work in scene changes along with the exceptional job done by the lighting and sound crew.

This show manages to pretty much offend every ethnic and social group known to man. If you are easily offended and are unable to see through to the comedy farce, this is definitely not a show for you. However, if you can leave your reservations at the door and do not mind the language and adult themes, you will have a marvelous evening of comic theater.

Even after six years of tours, The Book of Mormon still has sold-out venues wherever it lands and once again is filling the State Theatre at Playhouse Square (some audience members are viewing it for the third time). Whether you are a first timer or a seasoned viewer you are guaranteed an evening of absolute hilarity. The Book of Mormon offers a mixture of broad-farce comedy with just enough facts to keep it glued together and believable.

The Book of Mormon will be on stage through September 17, 2017 in the State Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.playhousesquare.org, by calling 216-241-6000, or by stopping by the Playhouse Square Ticket Office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre. For more information on the tour, visit bookofmormonbroadway.com/tour.


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