“The Book of Mormon” is raunchy, hilarious fun
The hilariously offensive musical brainchild of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez, The Book of Mormon, has begun it’s highly anticipated run here in Richmond.
Wednesday night’s performance was met with, from what I could tell, mostly positive reviews. As a reviewer, I sometimes like to listen to the people around me chat after the show, just to get a gauge on how a show is being received. And what I was hearing was pretty much right on par with my sentiments, this show’s pretty freaking funny.
Handsome and confident Elder Price, played by Ryan Bondy, and certifiable nerd Elder Cunningham, played by Cody Jamison Strand, are paired together to go on their Mormon mission, where male Elders in the LDS church travel around the world for two years to spread the gospel.
Instead of winding up in his dream locale of Orlando, FL, which Elder Price has considered to be the most wonderful place on Earth ever since he visited as a child, the pair end up being sent to Uganda in East Africa.
Elders Price and Cunningham end up in a small village where the people suffer every day from poverty, AIDS, starvation, and fear of cruelty from an evil warlord who goes by the name of General Butt F—ing Naked.
The villagers are not at all concerned with religion, choosing the motto of “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” which translates to some not so nice words towards God.
But one villager, Nabulungi the daughter of the village chief, played by Denée Benton, is fascinated by the new strangers and wants to hear all about their religion as she believes that the missionaries will offer her an escape from an impending attack by General Butt F—ing Naked.
After he is abandoned by Elder Price and desperate to impress leaders of the church, Cunningham, who it turns out has never actually read the Book of Mormon, lies to the villagers to make the Book more appealing so that they will convert. Inserting a multitude of “modifications” into the story, i.e. Boba fett, dysentery, Ewoks, and AIDS-curing frogs, to name a few, which are illustrated in the villager’s tribute the missionaries, “Joseph Smith American Moses.”
Cody Jamison Strand is hilarious as the naïve Elder Cunningham, however Cartman-esque his performance may be.
I probably laughed the most at his one liners often delivered in a frustrated screechy voice.
Ryan Bondy gives a strong performance as Elder Price, with the charm of a Disney prince and the overinflated ego to boot. He is especially hilarious when Elder Cunningham confronts him, after his post-traumatic coffee binge following his departure from the village.
Denée Benton is fantastic as Nabulungi. Her voice has incredible clarity and is just beautiful to listen to. Her comedic lines are delivered charmingly and she manages the more serious elements of her role with ease.
Pierce Cassedy also gives a stand out performance as Elder McKinley, who must hide his homosexual thoughts as they do not agree with his religion.
He owns every scene he’s in.
It is no secret to anyone that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the creators of the long running, often offensive cartoon, “South Park.” As I was speaking to a friend at intermission he commented that The Book of Mormon is pretty much like watching a long episode of “South Park.”
And I suppose I would agree although I think I stopped watching the show around 2003, but one thing you have to give Parker and Stone credit for is the unique signature they give to their work, be it offensive or not.
This show is not for the easily offended. There were times during the show where I will admit I felt a little uncomfortable as sometimes the subject matter just goes a little too far for my taste, but the undertones of this musical are sweet, if you can imagine it.
Underneath its smutty antics, “The Book of Mormon” actually tells a really great story about friendship and loyalty through the relationship between Elder Price and Elder Cunningham.
The set doesn’t look like much when the show starts, showcasing a beautifully detailed outline of a Mormon temple against a simple background. But as the show goes on, curtains are pulled back to reveal amazing multilevel sets depicting the Ugandan Village. The lighting is extremely impressive and well-timed. The choreography by Casey Nicholaw is excellent, to seamlessly meshing incredible skill and ability with pure comedy.
My main issue with shows at the Altria Theatre is the sound quality. This has been a continuous issue for many patrons that I have spoken to; at times it was difficult to understand what the actors were saying, which was unfortunate.
The Book of Mormon is playing at the Altria Theatre through November 9th.
www.broadwayinrichmond.com for tickets and show times.
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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