Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
The Book of Mormon
The show follows the mismatched missionary pair of Elder Price (an amazing Kevin Clay) and Elder Cunningham (the outrageously funny Conner Pierson), who receive their first missionary assignment from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are sent to the poverty-stricken country of Uganda, which Elder Price sees as a death sentence and Elder Cunningham as The Lion King. Both are in for a rude awakening, and their faith is challenged in both grave and hilarious ways.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone had already proven themselves adept at creating an entertaining and well-crafted musical in 1999 with South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, their movie musical adaptation of their hit Comedy Central TV show. Finding clever collaborators who knew the ins and outs of stage productions was all they needed to take the next step, and they found them in composer/lyricist Robert Lopez (who shares billing for the book) and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw. Lopez's kindred sense of humor was evident in his sleeper hit Avenue Q, and his knowledge and love of all things Broadway enlivens this show, with delightful references to West Side Story, The Music Man, and The King and I.
The Book of Mormon (the text, not the show) might not have seemed like an obvious source of inspiration for the musical stage, but this show marries 21st century humor with the sort of stage craft typical of Broadway's golden age in the 1950s. The score is memorable and fun; there is not a single song that is mere diversion or sentiment. Each contributes to story and character development, elevating an already clever book. The story never feels too slow or too fast, and underneath the modern humor is a remarkably classic structure.
Casey Nicholaw is in his element both as director and choreographer, constructing a show that flows seamlessly from one bit of delightful dancing to another. Tony-winning set design by Scott Pask does a lot with a little and makes great use of texture. Tony-winning lighting design by Brian MacDevitt is subtle or over-the-top as needed. Though there were occasional glitches in sound and microphone use at the performance I attended, this production is intact and wonderfully preserved in its second national tour.
Kevin Clay and Conner Pierson are clearly in their comfort zones as Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, respectively. Mr. Clay soars with his singing voice and is the ideal Abbott to Elder Cunningham's Costello. Mr. Pierson frequently evokes Josh Gad, the originator of his role, but makes it all feel fresh. As Nabulungi, the only female lead in a male-dominated cast, Kayla Pecchioni is the true heart of this production, showing us how badly Nabulungi needs to believe in something better than her circumstances. Her rendition of "Salt Tlay Ka Siti" is as heartbreaking as it is humorous.
To those who might be skeptical about the sometimes vulgar, always button-pushing style of The Book of Mormon, I say give it a chance. At its core it affirms our better selves and our nobler instincts, sending you on your way with a heartfelt smile. A musical comedy like this one has few peers in the modern Broadway canon, so don't wait for a "latter day."
The Book of Mormon, presented by SunTrust Broadway through August 12, 2018, at Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham NC. Tickets can be purchased online at www.dpacnc.com, www.ticketmaster.com, or the Ticket Center at DPAC in person, or by phone at 919-680-2787. For more information on the tour, visit bookofmormonbroadway.com.
Book, Music and Lyrics: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone