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Theater Review: The Book of Mormon Runs Through Nov. 25 With Pre-Show Lottery
September 6, 2012 - By Flavia Potenza
The coming-of-age buddy story of two naive Mormon missionaries confronting global issues of war, poverty and disease is funny? And how!
On opening night of The Book of Mormon, outside the Pantages Theater Hollywood Boulevard was teeming with celebrities and eager fans racing up to them asking for autographs and photographs.
It felt like an Old Hollywood opening night of what I imagine it was like in the 1930s and 40s. Exciting.
Inside, there was hardly an empty seat in the house and the air was electric with anticipation. The overture silenced the chatter and we were in the Mormon Training Center, Salt Lake City, Utah, where young men in white shirts, black pants and skinny black ties were practicing their proselytizing skills by ringing doorbells in the opening number, Hello.
The musical, winner of nine Tony awards, tells the story of two Mormon missionaries, Elder Kevin Price (Gavin Creel), a Mormon perfectionism, and Elder Arnold Cunningham (Jared Gertner), a nerdy SciFi/fantasy fan, who, for the first time, has a friend. The two are paired for their two-year mission to a remote village in Africa. Elder Prices only prayer was to be sent to Orlando, FL, and the combined disappointment of being paired with Cunningham and going to Africa is just the beginning of his eventual epiphany.
From here on, the musical, created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of TVs South Park fame, and Robert Lopez of Avenue Q, is a hysterical study in scatology and irreverence for just about everything except the resilience of the human spirit. This is not meant for children of tender years or adults sensitive to rude language or send-ups of rigid dogma. Its book is sparse and straightforward; the musical numbers brilliantly fill in the blanks.
Upon arrival the two missionaries are robbed at gunpoint by soldiers of a local warlord, General Butt-F---ing-Naked (Derrick Williams), an allusion to a real General Butt Naked, Joshua Milton Blahyi.
Discouraged, the two meet the other missionaries who in their time in the village, have yet to convert a single person to Mormonism. The district leader, Elder McKinley (Grey Henson), a repressed homosexual, and the resident missionaries, teach the discouraged Price and Cunningham his method of dealing with negative feelings by "turning it off like a light switch" in the song and tap dance number, "Turn It Off.
When the two meet village leader Mafala Hatimbi (Kevin Mambo), he and the villagers, share their daily realities of living in appalling conditions of famine, poverty and AIDS, while being ruled by a despotic, murderous chieftain who demands the circumcision of all female villagers by week's end.
To make their lives seem better, the natives sing Hasa Diga Eebowai. Price and Cunningham gleefully join them but are horrified to find out "hasa diga eebowai" translates to "F--k you, God." A joke that runs through to the very last line in the show, is a villager who declares he has maggots in my scrotum.
The plot turns on Elder Cunninghams coming of age when he decides to Man Up, (another hilarious musical roundhouse punch) when the daughter of Hatimbi, Nabulungi (the lovely Samantha Marie Ware) asks to be baptized.
Using his creative imagination to make it up, something he was always chastised for, Cunningham adds his love of American pop culture "Star Wars," "The Lord of the Rings" and Disney and a few choice phrases from the natives in the musical number "Making Things Up Again." He rewrites Mormon history from his deadly dull reading of The Book of Mormon into an exciting fantasy tale about the American Jesus, Moroni, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. The result is the conversion and baptism of the entire village.
Meanwhile, Elder Price goes on a coffee-drinking binge, wallowing in his disappointment. He remembers the nightmares of hell he had as a child and flies into a panic when his nightmare begins once again in the show-stopping "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, but returns to his faith with show-stopping "I Believe," eventually re-joining the elders to celebrate the successful conversion of the village.
The story culminates with the arrival of high-level elders from Salt Lake City, come to congratulate and reward the missionaries on their success. Before that can happen, the villagers present their hilarious version of "The Book of Mormon," with a play written especially for the occasion. Outraged, the elders excommunicate the missionaries, who rally to exclaim they are still Mormons and celebrate the joy they have brought to the village.
The Book Of Mormon features book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Parker and Stone are the four-time Emmy Award-winning creators of the landmark animated series, South Park. Tony Award-winner Lopez is co-creator of the long-running hit musical comedy, Avenue Q. The musical is choreographed by Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw (Monty Pythons Spamalot(, (The Drowsy Chaperone() and is directed by Nicholaw and Parker.
If you have the time but not the money to attend, a pre-show lottery at the box office offers a limited number of tickets at $25 apiece, cash only. Entries will be accepted at the box office beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance. Each person will print their name and the number of tickets (1 or 2) they wish to purchase on a card that is provided. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of tickets priced at $25 each. Only one entry is allowed per person.
Performance dates and times are Tuesday Saturday, 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., through November 18. November 20 25 (Thanksgiving week): Tuesday, 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.