The Book of Mormon; Truly Something Incredible
Once in a generation comes along a show that changes everything. And when you hear all the fuss about Broadway’s newest hit The Book of Mormon, which just happened to sweep up 9 Tony Awards at the last ceremony in June 2011, believe every single word of it. I was lucky enough to attend the production this past weekend and left the theatre speechless. Broadway is a much brighter place with the new hit musical The Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is a new original musical created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, known best for being the creators of South Park, and Robert Lopez, one of the masterminds behind Avenue Q. The musical follows the story of two Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, as they are sent to Uganda on a mission to spread the word of the church. However, this is going to prove a lot harder then originally thought when you’re fighting poverty, famine, AIDS and the local warlord. After an epic meltdown, some serious imagination and belief in the heavenly father, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham prove themselves to the church after a serious mission filled with much success.
The Book of Mormon features a book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. And when it comes to these guys, no one is safe. From jokes about just every race, religion, gender to songs about “Fuck You God”, The Book of Mormon truly delivers in insulting everyone. But ya know what? That’s okay! Its okay because the sense in which this trio approach this shows material is groundbreaking; Make fun of everyone and you’re golden. When it comes to music and lyrics, the trio delivers on all levels. Capturing you at moment one with “Hello!”, the music explores all genres and even pokes some fun at other Broadway productions. What is great about the musical is just how great every number in itself is. You know this is true when you ask multiple audience members what their favorite song was and they’re just simply not able to choose. Another great thing though is despite how absolutely hilarious some of the songs are, each has a really true meaning. No song has a greater meaning then “I Believe”, not only because all the facts stated in the song are true, but due to the fact that it is really what the entire production is about. Believing. And most importantly, finding belief when you have zero reason to anymore.
The book scores big time because it is good! And how often can you find that anymore with an original musical theatre piece? Wait let me answer that for you…not that often. Anyways, the book is very strong having clearly defined points and moving its way along never having the production feel like it is lagging or taking too long to get to the next point. And at that, it actually tells a great story. The comedy in the book itself is just absolutely a riot as everyone is promised to be made fun of at least once but is never so much it takes away from the story. The book has really find the right mix of being strong but not being just purely cheese. There is definitely heart which is clearly translated through the production.
Andrew Rannells, who stars as Elder Kevin Price in the production, truly shines from beginning to end with an unmatched stage presence and impressive vocals. While Rannells has had previous success on Broadway as Link Larkin in Hairspray and Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys, he was relatively unknown till Book of Mormon. And thats what makes him even better. Rannells performances makes one wonder how such talent has gone unnoticed on Broadway for so long now. Rannells performance in the role of the model Mormon missionary is not only believable but hilarious. Trying to be as perfect as possible, Rannells discovers this mission in Uganda is going to be a lot harder then originally expected. He captures you from “Hello!” and has you till the end. The best part about it is the story Rannells is able to tell with just his character alone. “You And Me (But Mostly Me)” is perfect showing not only the characters true intentions but will have you laughing as the song is very close to another Broadway blockbuster “The Wizard and I”. And his song “I Believe” is one of the most touching of the production and really is the “Aw” moment of the show. He has found the perfect mix between hilarity, telling the story and capturing you at the same time.
Josh Gad, who stars as Elder Arnold Cunningham in the production, will have you laughing your ass off quite literally from shows beginning to end. Taking ridiculous to a new level, Gad’s comedic timing and overall performance will have you rolling as he is exactly opposite Rannells in almost every aspects. Gad is that person who you just sometimes find yourself starring at asking “What in the world are you doing?”. However, this incredible performance doesn’t end with the comedy. From outlandish dancing to hilarious songs, Gad scores across the board with talent bursting at every chance possible. His song “Man Up” will go down in history as one of the best Act 1 closing numbers of the 21st century. Something that should be compared to “One Day More” from Les Miserable, “Till We Reach That Day” from Ragtime or “Blackout” from In the Heights. It was delightful to watch Gad as the typical last place loser finish first for once. And at the same time, he goes back to his brother who had abandoned him.
Nikki M. James, who stars as Nabulungi in the production, captures your heart from the moment she enters the stage till her dream is fulfilled at shows end. Her character so clueless to the world outside of her own is adorable and inspiring to watch as she works to changes not only herself but her community for the better. As time goes on, she slowly works her dream into reality which truly sends the message of the show about believing no matter what even more to the audience.
Rory O’Malley, who stars as Elder McKinley in the production, is really a much smaller part that always just seems to find a way into the spotlight when on stage. From the over the top reactions to the insane tap dancing production number of “Turn It Off”, Rory O’Malley makes you feel as though he was cheated for the Tony because his performance is really just that outstanding. From vocals to dancing, O’Malley shines proving that the supporting parts can be just as big as the leading ones.
Another mention should definitely go out to the ensemble who shined the entire production. This goes to both the African ensemble and the Mormon ensemble. Whenever backing up any songs, the ensemble was there with fierce and clean choreography performing all out at all times. Vocals that sounds like that of a heavenly (Ha!) chorus also make their way into each song with clean and fantastic harmonies. Especially a shout out to Scott Barnhardt,a Wagner College Theatre alum, in the production! Scott was featured in the production all over playing a Mormon as well as various other parts. Scott has definitely made Wagner College and the Theatre Department proud and is a beaming example of the success of Wagner College Theatre.
Where do I even begin with Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw? How about THANK YOU!! The two that co-directed the production together have really directed one of the best pieces of theatre on Broadway in the past quarter of a century. Casey Nicholaw also choreographed the production which boosts choreography that will have you rolling in the aisles. Why though? Instead of over the top tricks and stunts with this Broadway choreography, this production utilizes the idea of cheesey and funny choreography. Jazz squares and other Broadway favorites are all involved. I really do to have to say though that this production just scores on all levels. What has been created here is something truly special. You don’t find original musical theatre like this being created every day yet alone every decade. The Book of Mormon is a perfect musical. You would never really be able to guess that Trey Parker and Matt Stone were new at this. Because they’re just that good. And all of that definitely is seen through out the entire piece. Seven years of dedication, sweat, tears, maybe some blood all went into this one of a kind musical.
When it comes to technical aspects, the show is respectful without going over the top. The set design, by Scott Pask, uses a lot of classic Broadway illusions with big drops and a basic set for mot of the show. The lighting design, by Brain MacDevitt, is really classy and nice without being insane. While the lighting does have its insane moments, its only if the show calls for it. And lighting is some of the best I can recall in a Broadway production in recent years. The costume design by Anne Roth is very to the point with realistic clothing for all in all parts. However, she found a great way to change it up for the audience so we never got bored of just the same costumes. Mormons are rockstars and more appear and change as the song genres do. Its really a great idea since you’re keeping them in the same theme overall but catching our eye. And thats jsut what the technical aspects of this production do. They help tell the story but never steal away from it. Many Broadway shows today depend heavily on technical aspects. While this show does have many technical aspects to it, they are never so over the top that we watch them instead of the story being told. Something all Broadway shows should learn to do.
Sometimes, when you enter a Broadway theatre with high expectations, you may sometimes be setting yourself up for a let down. Upon leaving the theatre from Book of Mormon, I left with higher expectations for the bright future of original musical theatre. What is taking place right now in the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York City is truly “Something Incredible”. And potentially, the theatrical event of the decade. Everyone, young, old, dead and alive should see The Book of Mormon on Broadway. You’d only be cheating yourself in the end by not doing it. Find eternal life in this production and you simply won’t believe how much this show will change your life. For more information, check out The Official Website for The Book of Mormon on Broadway.