Stage Page – Irreverent and Hysterical Musical Comedy THE BOOK OF MORMON at the Ahmanson

Featured in the touring company of THE BOOK OF MORMON at the Ahmanson Theatre are (from left) Jordan Matthew Brown (Elder Cunningham), Alyah Chanelle Scott (Nabulungi) and Liam Tobin (Elder Price). Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes  

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THE BOOK OF MORMON, the nine-time Tony Award-winning Best Musical, is an incredibly irreverent and hysterical musical comedy about two young Mormon missionaries who travel to Africa to preach and recruit new members to their faith. With book, lyrics, and music written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, best known for creating the animated comedy series South Park, the two co-created the music with Robert Lopez, the co-composer/co-lyricist of Avenue Q and Frozen. The show opened on Broadway in March 2011 after nearly seven years of research and development, and no one is safe from its social parody. At that time, the LDS Church issued a polite, measured response to the musical, and then purchased advertising space in its playbill in later runs, a nod to the production’s ability to spread the word around the world.

 THE BOOK OF MORMON centers on Elder Price (Liam Tobin, who also played the role on Broadway) and Elder Cunningham (Jordan Matthew Brown, who joined the national tour fresh off playing the role on Broadway), dressed in the Mormon uniform of black slacks, white short-sleeved shirts, and black ties as they train to be ready to travel where assigned for two years. Along with them, the rest of the Mormon missionaries in their class celebrate this ritual at the beginning of the show with the clever and funny Hello! during which they mimic going door-to-door and ringing the bell in their attempt to share their beliefs with anyone willing to listen.

The entire ensemble is really a big part of the comedy that forwards the action in this show, both the Mormons and the inhabitants of a remote Ugandan village where Price and Cunningham are sent to preach the word.  But Price is incredibly disappointed with the assignment and his lackluster companion, which he sings about in the soul-reveling “You and Me, But Mostly Me.” As it turns out, he soon learns Elder Cunningham has never even read the “good book” they are attempting to preach. So how in the world will he be able to work with his partner to baptize new converts when he has no idea what to teach them?  Of course, comedy abounds when the two are challenged by the lack of interest of the locals, who are preoccupied with more pressing troubles such as AIDS, famine, and oppression from the local warlord whose name I dare not put in print. Trust me, the ongoing name references will keep your roaring from start to finish, although religious conservatives may take umbrage with the language.

At the center of the Ugandan village is the beautiful and open-minded Nabulungi (Alyah Chanelle Scott, whose wide-eyed innocence and soaring soprano are show-stoppers), whose name Cunningham never seems to remember, often calling her the most outrageous monikers, including Nabisco and Neutrogena, as he verbally re-creates the Book of Mormon in his own imaginative terms (including references to Star Trek, Star Wars, and every other Sci-Fi or media story you can imagine).  And with her successful acceptance and willingness to partake in Cunningham’s baptism into the faith, the trusting Nabulungi manages to help get as many as 20 other new recruits from the village, thus cementing Cunningham’s hero standing with the other Elders, which eventually attracts the attention and visit from their Elder supervisors in Salt Lake City.

No doubt like me, you will roar with laughter during the ensemble’s depiction of Elder Price’s recurring dream of Mormon hell, which includes every taboo subject to the faith from dancing Starbucks coffee cups to lust of all types, staged with eye-popping hellish costumes and scenery which moves into place in a matter of seconds, then disappears just as fast to take us back to Africa where Price must face his fellow Elders. Or you may think the funniest scene of the show is the depiction of the Book of Mormon via the song and staging of “Joseph Smith American Moses” put together by Nabulungi and the other Ugandan villagers, which of course has little to do with the real religious text, given Cunningham’s overly active imagining of the stories he has shared with them So of course the other Elders (including three in gray suits newly arrived from Salt Lake City) watch with gaping mouths and eyes wide open with shock at their play, right down to its shocking finale!

 

THE BOOK OF MORMON touring company production is a Broadway-quality, entertainment extravaganza not to be missed, running through March 29, 2020, at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets are available by calling Audience Services at (213) 972-4400, online at CenterTheatreGroup.org, or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office, located at the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012. Ticket prices start at $45. Be advised due to explicit language and situations, please leave the children at home. Entries for low-priced lottery seats at $25 are available at the box office beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance. Only one entry for two tickets is allowed per person and winners must be present at the time of the drawing. For more information, visit www.BookofMormonTheMusical.com