By Terry Meddows
A clever and perfectly executed musical comedy, “The Book of Mormon” continues to enthrall audiences with its pure joy and excellent performances.
You could just feel the love in the air between the touring production and the Fox Theatre audience. What a wonderful and rare experience to have these days – one of the smartest pieces of theater I’ve seen in many years.
“The Book of Mormon,” which opened on Broadway in 2011, was created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, known for their irreverent Emmy-winning animated series, “South Park,” and Robert Lopez, who had co-written the music for Tony winner “Avenue Q” and the the Oscar-winning Disney film “Frozen,” which he co-wrote with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
Stone and Parker are known for skewering and satirizing everyone and everything, with nothing out-of-bounds. In this case, they are mocking the Mormon religion, Colonialism and at times even the Disney musical “The Lion King,” but they superbly walk the fine line between being offensive and having true heart, which is not an easy feat to pull off.
The musical is about two young missionaries who are sent to Africa to spread their religion and convert the members of a remote village in Uganda into Mormons. What they face is a town ravaged by civil war, famine, AIDS and female genital mutilation.
The two young missionaries paired together are not a perfect match. Kevin Clay is terrific as Elder Price, the overconfident and self-centered missionary whose true dream was to be sent to Orlando, Florida. He has a beautiful singing voice, getting his big moment in the power ballad “I Believe.”
Elder Price is intent on saving the world, which he truly believes revolves around him and him alone. His companion, Elder Cunningham, played with precise comic timing by Conner Peirson, who also has a beautiful voice, is an insecure, overweight, under-achiever and nerd who makes up stories — read tells “whoppers” — when under pressure.
These two are completely clueless innocents when they face the reality that awaits in East Africa.
Creators Stone, Parker and Lopez have emphasized just how clueless we are as Americans when it comes to the world outside our own backyard. They bring out that we, like Elder Price, believe the world revolves around us. We tend to feel superior and could care less about other cultures and other countries, especially Third World countries experiencing a nightmare we can’t imagine within our safe American bubble.
This musical comedy may sound deeply serious but it’s not. With one stand-out musical number after another and hilarious dead-on performances, it delivers both innocent and lewd comedy, and wackiness ensues.
The show is impeccably produced, including a stunning set design by Scott Pask, outstanding lighting design by Brian MacDevitt and eye-pleasing costumes by Ann Roth. The way the set moves from one magnificent scene to another is nothing less than spectacular.
The show’s direction by Casey Nicholaw and Parker is precise and smart, with Nicholaw’s clean and crisply executed choreography another fun element.
The flawless ensemble is truly strong both in vocals and dance, with “Hello,” “Turn It Off” and ‘Baptize Me” highlights.
Kayla Pecchioni shines as the lovely and at times, heartbreaking young Ugandan woman, Nabulungi, especially in ‘Sal Tlay Ka Siti.”
My favorite might be “Joseph Smith American Moses,” which is so outrageous and vulgar it must be seen to be believed. In fact, there is not a dud song in the entire show.
Cunningham falls in love with Nabulungi, although he can never remember her name, and calls her Nabisco, Necrophilia, Nicki Minaj and Nancy Pelosi, just to name a few. She is the sweet soul of this ravaged village, and convinces others to listen to Elder Cunningham and convert.
Of course, Elder Cunningham has not read “The Book of the Latter-Day Saints,” so he makes up stories about his religion, stealing ideas from the plots of “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “The Lord of the Rings” for great comical effect.
Other noteworthy performances include Jacques C. Smith as Nabulungi’s caring and gentle father, Andy Huntington Jones as the closeted Elder McKinley, and Corey Jones as the warlord General Butt-F**king Naked (yes, that is his actual name).
Of note in the cast is Zach Erhardt of St. Louis, who is Elder Smith in the ensemble, and Webster Conservatory graduate Ron Bohmer, who plays Joseph Smith, among other roles.
The show is so tight and lovable that the 2-1/2-hour running time flies by.
Don’t be afraid of being offended by the show’s material. Yes, it has filthy language and some subject matter that people do find offensive, but “The Book of Mormon” has been created with a huge and generous heart so that we can love every minute of this modern-day masterpiece.
The show ends with a joyous heart, and the audience rushed to their feet for a sincere standing ovation.
It’s such a pleasure to experience this delightful show with a crowd excited to see a musical of such high-caliber.
“The Book of Mormon,” winner of nine Tony Awards, is a hot ticket still on Broadway and plays to mostly sold-out houses, so hurry to see it before it’s gone in its brief run here.
The show runs at The Fabulous Fox Theatre through this Sunday, June 3. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Fox Theatre Box Office at 531 N. Grand Blvd or through MetroTix.com or by phone: 314-534-1111.