Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Parker co-directed the musical with choreographer Casey Nicholaw, drawing on the traditional Broadway theme of cultures learning from each other (for a more serious version, see The King and I) as two young Mormon missionaries attempt to make converts in a part of rural Uganda coping with poverty, starvation, rampant AIDS, and violent warlords. The tone may be satiric, but the authors understand the need for belief and how religious dogma is always metaphorical, not meant to be taken literally.
Kevin Clay has the perfect shining veneer for Elder Price, an overachieving young man convinced that he is going to make history during his mission, and Conner Peirson squeezes every bit of humor out of Elder Cunningham, a rather dumpy fellow with a whining voice whose knowledge of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings trivia comes in handy when he least expects it to. Other standouts in the accomplished cast include PJ Adzima as a tightly wrapped missionary who leads a zany ensemble number about repressing unpleasant emotions, Sterling Jarvis as the tribal leader, and Kim Exum as the leader's daughter, whose acceptance of Mormonism as explained by Cunningham sets up one of the funniest musical sequences ever performed on Broadway.
The tour staging keeps things fluid as Scott Pask's scenic design (under a proscenium that suggests the towers of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City) moves easily from Utah to Uganda, including a stop in Hell, and Brian MacDevitt's lighting design allows for an instantaneous costume change (costumes by Ann Roth) in mid-production number. Nicholaw draws on numerous styles of dance, from African (as filtered through The Lion King) to old-fashioned Broadway tap and pageantry.