Friday, March 29, 2013

Theatre review: "The Book of Mormon" traveling version

We have a visitor, The Book of Mormon. It’s unfolding at Benedum Center. This winner of nine Tony Awards arrives full of vitality, salty sass and silliness. Whoops! The tickets come inscribed with the words alerting holders to “explicit language.” Un-huh. This is pegged as being only for alleged mature audiences. Except that the humor most likely most pleases those who’ve only recently been licensed to drive and qualified to vote. Not to put it down, by any means. Riper folk no doubt will grin and guffaw. Just forget about subtlety.

The book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone are right in line with their earlier successes, the show Avenue Q and the animated TV series South Park. So think of this as a super- decorated, goofy cartoon. The songs have a few clever lyrics and the tunes fly by swiftly and effortlessly in their generic but useful way. Consider them as in the same league with those for Spamalot and The Producers. The show itself’s the thing that captures the essence of the zing.

Yes, it has some of the outrageousness of The Producers, being the next step further out from “Springtime for Hitler” heading off to darkest, AIDS-infested Africa where the natives aren’t restless. Rather they sing and dance their way through misery, poverty and disease, while the Doctor proudly claims he has maggots in his scrotum. He’s telling this to a couple of lily-whites who’ve just arrived from Salt Lake City where the hills are alive with sound of praying.

They and other young-uns of their sect are, weirdly, called Elders, having achieved church status in their missionary positions. The story sends them off while sending up the tenets of their faith, giving Mormonism the substance of bubble gum. So, yeah, this is a satire. Yet, life is not so much nasty, short and brutish as it is more an Oz-like version of a corner of the third world and a fraction of Utah. It dwells on innocence, that of the boys and the natives.

Elders Price and Cunningham are at the center of the fable. As cleverly directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, Price gee-whizes- by wide-eyed and puzzled while Cunningham finds friendship and finds himself for the first time ever in his stumbling, bumbling life. Christopher John O’Neill virtually steals the show as Cunningham, his warmth and charm constantly glowing on stage. Mark Evans sings superbly and does all the right things with the role of Elder Price. CMU grad Grey Henson capably personifies Elder McKinley, also trying his mother-hugging best to convert the heathens. Another character getting major attention is a young woman named Nabulungi. She’s played by Samantha Marie Ware, who has the voice and style to do the most with a stock musical comedy character.

A lot of the show has the gloss of other Broadway productions but which Casey Nicolaw’s choreography wonderfully parodies. Such funny stuff and more bounces all over the place in this charmer. I imagine that adults are not supposed to bring the kids. But where does childhood end and adult-hood start? Bleep if I know.

The Book of Mormon continues through April 7th at Benedum Center, Downtown - 412- 456-4800 and

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