Great humor and music in “The Book of Mormon”
Courtney Cox | Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Last Friday, I visited Chicago’s Bank of America Theater for a performance of “The Book of Mormon” but I admittedly knew very little going into it. I knew it would be about Mormons and that “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone wrote the musical – but that’s about it.
When the performance began, it became immediately evident that the show would maintain the borderline offensive style of social criticism characteristic of “South Park.”
The opening number is a play on the traditional door-to-door method of conversion with several young Mormon men wearing in the now-recognizable uniform of a short-sleeved button down and tie. The men are completing their training at the Church of Later Day Saints (LDS) training center in Utah before they begin their two-year missions abroad.
Elder Price, the show’s handsome second coming of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, has been praying to God for years that he may be sent to the happiest place on Earth to fulfill his mission – Orlando.
Instead, Elder Price is sent to the beautiful paradise of Uganda. And to make matters worse, his mission partner is the most maladjusted of all other elders within the group, Elder Cunningham.
Price, despite this disappointment, believes he is meant for great things and certainly will make great strides with the LDS mission in Africa. He comes to realize, however, that the Ugandan people are much less receptive to the Third Testament than he had thought.
Price begins to doubt himself and the possibility of making a change, so he confides in the other Mormons in Uganda with him. They understand where he’s coming from but sing a hilariously depressing song about “turning off” these negative feelings.
They find conversion much more difficult than they initially expected because of the more impending problems that the Ugandans face like AIDS, a violent warlord threatening the village and abject poverty.
Success comes for the Mormons only when Elder Cunningham begins to make his own adjustments to the traditional teachings of the church. This causes Elder Price to become increasingly jealous and what ensues is nothing short of inspired.
The major strength of the play is its ability to combine an apt criticism of organized religion with the lyrically rich songs created by Parker, Stone and their partner Robert Lopez, co-writer of “Avenue Q.” Despite some inappropriate themes and language, the show never offends unnecessarily.
Typically, off-shoot productions have a cast marginally less talented than the original Broadway show, and admittedly I didn’t see the show on Broadway, but I can’t imagine the cast being much better than what I saw in Chicago.
Ben Platt, who plays the lovable Elder Cunningham, may be recognizable to audiences from his role as the equally awkward but charming Benji in this fall’s “Pitch Perfect.” The ensemble who worked together as Ugandan villagers were beyond incredible at delivering the most humorous moments of the play through song. The performance is definitely worth a trip to the Windy City – hop on the South Shore to enjoy the show soon, which will be in Chicago until September. “The Book of Mormon” is sure to intrigue and entertain a Notre Dame audience.
Contact Courtney Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org