New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"The Book of Mormon”
Eugene O’Neill Theatre, Broadway

“The Book of Mormon,” now at Broadway’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre, is
pleasantly entertaining—a good old-fashioned musical. But its real strength lies
in its satire of a long-time religious practice.

We are talking about proselytizing—about a religious group’s
determination to win benighted pagans over to its own faith. For this
unbeliever, the assumption that any one religion has a corner on the truth is
infuriating. And that they should pass it on to others is a striking example of
misguided efforts.

But the Mormons (in this show, as in reality) are undeterred, as
they spread the Word. Dressed in neat white shirts, black slacks, and eager,
innocent facial expressions, they knock on doors, armed with their own version
of the Word.  Ultimately, the young men are sent abroad on their
“missions”--truly innocents abroad. Specifically, an unlikely team—Elder Price
and Elder Cunningham—are sent to a remote village in Uganda.
There, poverty, ill health, terrorism are rampant, but they are prepared to
conquer it all with conversions.

“The Book of Mormon” tackles the story with a lively, bouncy,
thoroughly irreverent script. With Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”) and Trey
Parker/Matt Stone (“South Park”) responsible for the book, music and lyrics, it
could hardly be otherwise.

The Mormon Church is an easy target, given its recent appearance
on the stage of worldwide religions. Its beginnings date back only to the early
1800s--and in upstate New York. No wonder Lopez and company could write a piece
called “All-American Angel.”

Sitting far back in the theater, below the balcony overhang,
many of the priceless lines are lost to listeners. So indeed there may have been
more hilarious exchanges than we realized. But, nonetheless, several scenes are
knock-outs. When Elder Cunningham finally baptizes a village girl, the double
entendres flight back and forth non-stop. And the show which the newly-baptized
villagers offer to visiting Mormon dignitaries is a first-rate rip-off of the
play-within-a-play found in “The King and I” (the Little House of Uncle Thomas).

As to the cast, Andrew Ranells is right on target playing the naïve
Elder Price, and Nikki M. James is a warm, appealing village girl (Nabulungi),
with voice to match. Solid back-ups all around from the others.

When one thinks of proselytizing, the Bible may be a better choice
than guns. But neither is the solution needed in destitute African countries.
And “The Book of Mormon,” with its moments of absurdity, brings this home.

--Irene Backalenick
April 2, 2011

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