(l-r) Ryan Bondy and David Aron Damane. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Review: BOOK OF MORMON on Tour at Kansas City Music Hall
By Bec Pennington
Attending at the Music Hall in Kansas City on the same night, at the same time nearly, as a couple of other big events downtown meant traffic was ugly slow. There, I found something to complain about this show, albeit indirectly. I still managed to get into the theater before the opening scene, thank God.
Trying to think of the best word to describe what I saw…It was just so, damn, endearing. Every single character in this production is likable, even the warlord threatening mutilation and death on an impoverished Ugandan village (maybe it was the sunglasses). It has a surprising thoughtfulness to it, shoving enlightened perspective lovingly down the audience’s throat using, of all things, religion humor. The opening song plays it trite, and you’d think you were in for a shallow bash fest of America’s infamous homegrown faith, but instead we find a broader commentary encapsulated in an easily swallowable pill of making fun of ourselves through someone else. It also somehow manages to broach topics of famine, hopeless disease, violence and terror with hilarity, but without glorifying or dismissing their horror. The brilliance of this play is that it avoids being on the nose by being on the nose. Personally, I hate being preached at. Stone, Parker, and Lopez assumed intelligence in the theater goers, and for that they have my respect.
The storyline does not attempt much at regurgitating or redefining the text of the Mormon scriptures (though an ad taken in the program by the actual Mormon church hilariously suggested their book is “sliiightly different”). Instead, after a silly summary of the origins of the church, it follows a couple of naive young missionaries into their first assigned field. As they eagerly attempt to reach their goals of converting and baptizing the natives, they increasingly realize the training they received at home has not perhaps prepared them as much as they’d hoped, and the plastic answers of an undeveloped faith are more absurd than any alternatives that could be suggested. Cue the absurd alternatives.
The small cast seemed more than capable of the high energy choreography, fast changes, and upbeat score – Bryce Charles’ vocals especially delighted the ears, though no one disappointed. My favorite scene was definitely the “Turn It Off” number, though it’s hard to say it was a show stopper, as nothing seemed to be able to stop this show. The pacing is incredible, and I found myself appreciating the intermission, if nothing but to breathe for a second. Gabe Gibbs is comfortable in his role as Elder Price, and Chad Burris, a standby understudy for the Elder Cunningham role, clearly held his own – I could swear he got Gibbs to break character and stifle a giggle at one point, which only made us in the audience laugh all the more. Daxton Bloomquist also deserves a shoutout for, well, everything he did.
The practical side of me delighted in Scott Pask’s cleverly useful set pieces, and the costumes were incredibly effective, stealing at least one scene in coordination with perfectly timed lighting cues.
As a religious person myself, I have to be clear that very little offends me. There are a lot of reviews on The Book of Mormon since it was first produced, and friends luckier – and I should note, more liberal in their views than I – who had seen it on Broadway raved about it, so I’ve been… curious. Part of my reflection on the evening included just how many new concepts and vocabulary words my offspring would learn from the experience if I took them to see this, and they’re teenagers. It is very vulgar. Trey Stone & Matt Parker’s work I am very familiar with, so I was still a bit surprised to not be utterly shocked. Maybe I’ve grown a thicker skin. Maybe they’ve gotten milder in their approach (I don’t think so). Maybe we’ve all become older and wiser. In any case, this musical is fantastic.
THE BOOK OF MORMON runs thru December 11th at The Music Hall. For more information and to purchase tickets visit theaterleague.org