A Latter Day in Madison - The Book of Mormon

May 11, 2017

From which an excerpt was published in The Capital Times on May 14th, 2017.

 

Glitzy tap sequences, flaming maple donuts, a tribe plagued by AIDS and scrotum maggots, and a whole lot of pressed white shirts make The Book of Mormon a fabulous night of laughter and religious satire. From the makers of South Park, this musical is built for a similar audience (and is definitely not one to bring Grandma to).

 Photo by Joan Marcus

 

This 2011 Broadway hit follows a pair of incompatible Mormons as they journey to Uganda to spread the word about the Mormon church (of Jesus Christ) (of Latter-Day Saints). The show keeps a quick pace, toggling between digs on the faith and crude jokes about cultural degradation and genital mutilation at the expense of the Africans. The two distinct formats earn separate chuckles, and just when the back and forth seems a little monotonous, they join for a medley of raunchy play.

 

Companions Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, played by Kevin Clay and Conner Pierson (respectively), compliment each other and together form a powerful leading duo. Clay’s Elder Price is the image of ego. His interpretation could benefit from some endearing qualities, but his choices serve the script accurately. He shines particularly in the thrilling number “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”, showing a humorously weakened side of Price and singing at the same level as his original Broadway predecessor, Andrew Rannells.

 

Pierson fills the space with a quirky take on Cunningham, drawing unique contrast (in both character and voice) to the man who created the role, Josh Gad. Vocally, he does seem to shout, rather than sing, when near the top of his range. In some productions, this can make or break the tale. Thankfully, Pierson’s physicality brings so much joy to the stage that one simply cannot hold the vocal pitfalls against him.

 

Leanne Robinson, in the role of Nabulungi, occasionally lacks the conviction of her fellow castmates. She falls in and out of her Ugandan accent throughout the performance, and her comedic timing leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, Robinson’s performances in “Joseph Smith American Moses” and “Hasa Diga Eebowai [Reprise]” are side splitting and showcase precisely why she was cast in this role.

Photo by Joan Marcus 

 

The real star of this show is choreographer Casey Nicholaw. The energetic dances in each number have varied styles to fit the wide range of cultural references, and yet each was held together by a similar adrenaline. Ten grown white men bop around to African tunes like Energizer bunnies in black ties. Meanwhile, the Africans are learning to groove to the beat of the white man, as inspired by Elder Cunningham’s tales of Boba Fett and the Kraken. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s uniquely Book of Mormon.

 

The lighting design is spot on, with fog and strobes to boot. The disco balls perfectly parallel Price’s ego in “You and Me (But Mostly Me)”. Concert style lighting is flown in during Cunningham’s rocking act one revelation song, “Man Up”. The clever design, however, was not consistent in execution. The upstage right corner was often in darkness, hiding otherwise hilarious cameos from the Star Trek crew and Elder Cunningham’s father.

The Book of Mormon is most certainly it’s own phenomena. It doesn’t adhere to the family friendly norms of classic Broadway, but it keeps the elements long time theatre goers love: big ensembles and big dance numbers, all fit into a neat two and a half hours. This niche piece is scheduled to continue it’s Madison run through May 14th.

 

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