“The Book Of Mormon” is funny, irreverent, outrageous and more fun than you ever expected to have with a bunch of sincere young Mormons. Of course, considering the creative team behind this show – with book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone – perhaps the outcome was inevitable. 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 Python’s Spamalot,” “The Drowsy Chaperone”) and is directed by Nicholaw and Parker. No wonder “The Book of Mormon” won nine Tony Awards in 2011, including Best Book, Best Musical, Best Score and Best Orchestration.
Yes, not only is it hilarious, but it has wonderful music that cajoles, mocks, soars, makes us misty, and ultimately celebrates the innately human ability to imagine a better way. And the music works because the company of this national tour totally rocks it – singing and dancing in a way that constantly contrasts the spunky but stiff, white-shirted and pale-skinned Mormons with the polyrhythmic, colorful musicality of the villagers.
The story of “The Book of Mormon” follows two young men who are launched from Salt Lake City into their big two-year mission assignment in war-torn Uganda. One doesn't know where Uganda is; the other was expecting an assignment in Orlando, Florida.
The Welsh-born Mark Evans, who plays Elder Price, has an intimidating list of credits from London’s West End; he has played all the big shows. As the privileged, exuberant young Mormon, he is a joy to hear and watch as he crisply marches into Uganda and expects his Midas Touch to magically transform the world-wise villagers. Having no first-hand experience with failure, he literally doesn’t know what to do when faced with his first set back.
Fortunately, his companion on this mission is pretty used to daily disappointments. Elder Cunningham – the Sancho Panza on this Quixotic quest – is played as an adorably cheerful and good-hearted doofus by Christopher John O’Neill.
We also want to give a shout out to Flint native Trevon Davis, who recently joined company. Another outstanding performance in this show (among a gifted cast) is that of Samantha Marie Ware as the young village girl Nabulungi. Ironically, she debuted in Vegas with the role of Nala in “Disney's The Lion King,” which is constantly spoofed in this show.
“The Book of Mormon” reveals a grimmer, non-Disney side of Africa, to be sure. And even though this show has a vicious warlord who mutilates women and assassinates anyone who stands in his way (okay, so he IS a bit like “Scar”) it also has production numbers like “The Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” to remind us that this is an honest-to-Joseph-Smith Broadway musical comedy.
And a final observation. Watching this show, we can’t help but remember that it is only because of our country’s profound belief in religious freedom – as well as in the separation of church and state – that we can afford to laugh at a show like this. And much to the credit of the Mormon Church, the program is filled with their ads, which boast such lines as “The Book is always better,” with a picture of the actual Book of Mormon. Not every faith-based group has this sense of humor. Which is perhaps the real sin; if we could learn to laugh more at ourselves, perhaps our ideologies would be taken more seriously.
“The Book Of Mormon” runs through March 24, 2013 at the Fisher Theatre, located at 3011 West Grand Boulevard, in Detroit. Evening performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets are nearly sold out for the two-week engagement, but the production is holding a pre-show lottery at the box office through which 20 tickets per performance will be available at $29 apiece. 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 (one or two) 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 $29 each. Only one entry is allowed per person. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets.
For additional information, or to check ticket availability, visit the official production company website or the Broadway In Detroit website. Tickets begin at $49 and will be available at the Fisher Theatre box office, all Ticketmaster locations, or by phone at 1-800-982-2787