A rip-roaring production of the Tony Award winning Broadway hit “The Book Of Mormon” is now running through March 29th at the Ahmanson Theater in downtown LA.  With Book, Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, along with noted Disney composer Robert Lopez, this irreverent take on the Mormons and their mission could go so wrong but in the capable hands of these artists along with the brilliant co- direction of Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw who also choreographs, it goes oh so right!

Liam Tobin in "The Book of Mormon" - Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Liam Tobin in “The Book of Mormon” – Photo by Julieta Cervantes

An amped up audience filled the theater to capacity in anticipation of a great night of theater all looking for a chance to laugh.   An over arching Mormon Temple profile fills the proscenium as a constant reminder that God is watching or perhaps it’s Joseph Smith the founder of the Mormon church.  Either way judgment is constant.  The scenic design by Tony Award winner Scott Pask brilliantly supports the show throughout, as does the superb and intricate lighting by another Tony winner, Brian MacDevitt.  After a brief tableau, with voice over (Ron Bohmer on VO/plus multiple parts) describing the enlightenment of Joseph Smith and the discovery of the golden plates, upon which the Mormon doctrine is predicated, we are whisked to today.

“Hello” the perfect show opener introduces us to the young LDS (Latter Day Saints) members who are being paired up for their two-year recruitment mission. Elder Price has been praying that he be sent to his idea of heaven, Orlando.  He is supercilious, arrogantly over-confident and played to perfection by Liam Tobin.  Tall, blonde and cheesy, Tobin can sing, dance and mine every line for comedic effect.  Luckily for us he is paired with super nerd Elder Cunningham an insecure compulsive liar desperately looking to make Elder Price his BFF.    Jordan Matthew Brown is hilarious as Elder Cunningham.  Quirky, irritating and guileless you find yourself rooting for him while laughing your head off.  Elder Price’s prayers go unanswered and he along with Cunningham will not be sent to Orlando but to Uganda!

Upon arrival in Uganda they are robbed at gunpoint by The General, an imposing Corey Jones and his henchmen, Kent Overshown and Leonard E. Sullivan and introduced to the miserable life of the villagers by Mafala Hatimbi, Jacques C. Smith and his beautiful daughter Nabulungi, an incandescent, Alyah Chanelle Scott.  Happily singing of tragedy and horror their friendly upbeat song “Hasa Diga Eebowai” translates to “F U God!”  It looks like this mission will be harder than Price and Cunningham had in mind.  Isaiah Tyrelle Boyd as the Doctor, along with Terrie Lynne, Josh Marin, Stoney B. Mootoo, Monica L. Patton, Matthew Sims Jr., and Brinnie Wallace, buoyantly play the villagers.

Tsilala Brock, Liam Tobin, Jordan Matthew Brown in "The Book of Mormon" - Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Tsilala Brock, Liam Tobin, Jordan Matthew Brown in “The Book of Mormon” – Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Having yet to convert a single African, a group of young missionaries await the arrival of Elder Price who they are sure will lead the way.  The missionaries played with great sincerity are Daniel Fetter, Dylan James Mulvaney, Eddie Olmo II, Conner Russell, Sean Seymour, Steven Tesley, Patrick Graver and their leader Elder McKinley, the outstanding Andy Huntington Jones.  All embody their parts with earnestness only a young Mormon could bring.  Jones, a gifted comic, makes the most of his futile attempts to keep his homosexual feelings at bay with “Turn It Off” one of many show-stopping tunes.

Casey Nicholaw’s ingenious choreography manages to send up iconic Broadway shows of the past and present, as well as skewer; the world of theme parks, corporate shows and ship extravaganzas with his zany, gleeful and wildly energetic dances.  Nothing misses the mark.  When the self- serving Elder Price must confront his failures he goes on a coffee drinking binge and finds himself in a “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” which allows Nicholaw to pull out all the stops.   How can you go wrong with dancing serial killers!  It’s ridiculously over the top and ridiculously funny.

Alyah Chanelle Scott and Jordan Matthew Brown in "The Book of Mormon" - Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Alyah Chanelle Scott and Jordan Matthew Brown in “The Book of Mormon” – Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Also pulling out all the stops is Tony Award winning Costume Designer Ann Roth.   There is not a misstep in her work as each costume perfectly amplifies the story while adding a crazy wackiness to the proceedings.

In a predictable turn of events it is the nebbish Elder Cunningham who converts the Villagers to his version of Mormonism.  Having never read the Book he uses his “Imagination” resulting in their unique depiction of the founding of the religion “Joseph Smith, American Moses.”  In an ode to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” Nicholaw and Parker turn this into a rude and crude piece of hilarious theater.  Primitive and crass it is no more absurd than the Mormon doctrine with its golden plates and magic glasses.

The show is a roiling political take on the naive idea of converting a people to a belief system that has no relevance to their culture and moreover is not fully understood by those who persist in the recruitment of new converts at all costs.  In these politically sensitive times have no fear; this show skewers one and all equally and does it with a light heart and surprising sweetness.

Ultimately, the book by Parker and Stone has a simple message; by working together perhaps we can find a level of acceptance and live peaceably.

The rollicking score with great dance arrangements by Glen Kelly and superb orchestrations by Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus along with the clever book and, an A-plus cast and production makes for a night of great theater.  The crowd came to laugh and laugh they did.

Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle, February 22, 2020.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

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