The Book Of Mormon is back, exciting news indeed for fans of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone’s super-smash Broadway hit, now making its only L.A.-area stop this year at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts.
The winner of 9 Tony Awards (including Best Musical) The Book Of Mormon pokes (or makes, depending on your POV) fun of the “free book” touted in its title as it does those whose faith in it takes them (or at least the male half of them) on two-year message-spreading missions to romantic destinations like Norway, France, Japan, and—in the case of Elders Price (Billy Harrison Tighe) and Cunningham (A.J. Holmes)—Uganda, the land of famine, poverty, AIDS and female genital mutilation. (Oy vey!)
Missionaries Price and Cunningham couldn’t be a more mismatched pair, the former an all-American golden boy, the latter an inveterate expert at “making things up,” and neither one prepared to be greeted upon arrival in Africa by soldiers who rob them at gunpoint.
Fortunately for the two newbie Word-spreaders, most villagers couldn’t be lovelier (despite arguably the foulest mouths in Broadway history), and loveliest of all is the enchanting Nabulungi (Alexandra Ncube), whose dreams of visiting faraway “Sal Tlay Ka Siti,” Utah, set Cunningham’s still virginal heart aflutter.
Already serving on the local missionary team is District Leader Elder McKinley (Brian Beach, doubling as Moroni), whose Utah boy-next-door-ness masks a young man’s attempts to deal with same-sex longings in time-tested Mormon fashion, i.e. by simply “turning it off.” (As if.)
Also figuring prominently in Book Of Mormon are blood-thirsty village ruler General Butt-Fucking Naked (Corey Jones), Nabulungi’s father Mafala (Stanley Wayne Mathis), and a few post-missionary-age Mormons (Ron Bohmer in multiple roles).
Everything works to perfection in The Book Of Mormon, from Casey Nicholaw and Parker’s Tony-winning direction, as inspired a joint effort as Broadway has seen in decades, to book writers Parker, Lopez, and Stone’s Tony-winning coming-of-age-tale, one which gets us to caring about its cast of characters, both American and Ugandan, by allowing us little by little to see them not as stereotypes but as real human beings.
Lopez, and Stone’s Tony-winning songs are as original as they are intentionally derivative, from the echoes of Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked in “You And Me (But Mostly Me)” to the R-rated spoofing of “Hakuna Matata” in “Hasa Diga Eebowai” to a scatological “Joseph Smith American Moses” that takes an iconic “The King And I”ballet and runs wild-and-crazy with it.
And you can add to that about half a dozen tear-inducingly gorgeous songs that manage to be at once hilarious and moving, plus choreography that invokes 42nd Street taps, Saturday Night Fever disco, Lion King tribal moves, and just every fantasy dream sequence ever staged.
Heading the First National Tour at the Segerstrom, boy-next-door triple-threat-tastic Tighe is everything you want an Elder Price to be, leading lady Nkube makes for a magical Nabulungi (her “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” is simply sublime), and Beach couldn’t be more delightful as gay-as-a-goose Elder McKinley.
Mathis is a warm and winning Mafala Hatimbi, Jones is deliciously terrifying as General Butt-Fucking Naked, and Broadway vet Bohmer aces the enviable task of bringing to life a quartet of roles: Missionary Training Center Voice, Price’s Dad, Joseph Smith, Mission President.
Most memorable of all is charismatic Agoura High School grad Holmes, who takes a role usually cast as a Chris Farley type and reinvents it in Andy Samberg mode, goofy, gangly, and utterly winning.
Ensemble members Ebony Blake, Josh Breckenridge (Doctor), Michael Buchanan, Veladya Chapman, Kelechi Ezie (Mrs. Brown), Keisha Gilles, Logan Hart, Tyler Jones (Mormon), Ben Laxton, swing Antyon Le Monte, Jamil Akim O’Quinn (Guard), Daniel Plimpton, Adam Ray (Cunningham’s Dad), Steve Raymond, Tyrone L. Robinson (Guard), and swing Jamaal Wilson (Guard) sing and dance and play multiple roles to perfection.
Scott Pask’s Tony-winning scenic design features quite possibly the most godforsaken African village to ever fill a Broadway stage and Ann Roth’s eclectic costumes couldn’t be more fabulous. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting design, Brian Ronan’s sound design, and Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus’s orchestrations all won Tonys, and deservedly so.
Providing expert musical direction at the Segerstrom Center is Justin Mendoza, who conducts from the pit and plays keyboards as well.
Though not appearing onstage at the performance reviewed, Miles Jacoby is Elder Price standby, Coby Getzug and Dana Joel Nicholson are Elder Cunningham standbys, and Randy Aaron, Dayna Jarae Dantzler, assistant dance captain Jeff Heimbrock, Keziah John-Paul, and dance captain Ian Liberto are additional swings, primed like Le Monte and Wilson to step in at a moment’s notice.
Kimberly Fisk is production stage manager.
Still going strong on Broadway after five years (and over 2000 performances), The Book Of Mormon is that rarity among Broadway musicals, a megasmash with not one but two National Tours crossing the country as it continues to be one of the hottest tickets on The Great White Way.
Don’t miss the year’s only chance to catch it down Costa Mesa Way.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
March 23, 2106
Photos: Joan Marcus