After playing to sold-out audiences in 2014 when it first arrived in Montreal, the North American touring company of the “Book of Mormon” presented by Broadway Across Canada and evenko returns to Place des Arts for a limited engagement run from April 18th to 23rd, 2017. Read our full-length review of the current visiting production below.
It’s the third time we’re seeing live the Broadway brainchild of South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and co-composer/co-lyricist of Avenue Q and Frozen Robert Lopez, and we remain firm believers that this nine-time Tony award-winning phenomenon shows no signs of slowing in its mission to convert non-musical disciples to the divine magic of theatre.
The Book of Mormon tells the coming-of-age story of Elder Kevin Price and Elder Arnold Cunningham (here played by Gabe Gibbs and Conner Peirson, respectively), two young American missionaries who are being sent abroad to Africa to proselytize their beloved religion and bring new members to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The straightforward satirical setup is classic: Price, the quintessential good-looking, confident, and overachieving poster boy for the devout, is paired up with none other than Cunningham, a nerdy, needy, and socially repugnant teen who facetiously appears to know more about sci-fi trivia and pop culture than the tenets of the theology he’s supposed to be preaching.
The comically mismatched couple arrive in a remote town in Northern Uganda earnest and eager to begin their door-to-door crusade to spread the word of Christ, but it’s not quite “The Lion King” Disney fantasy land they’d been dreaming of. The Book proves to be an impossibly hard sell to the impoverished, oppressed, and disease-stricken villagers. Where has God been, after all, in their suffering (“Hasa Diga Eebowai”)?
Bitterly disappointed at his Heavenly Father for not answering his prayers of being sent to the happiest place on Earth, a defeated Price is ready to pack his carry-on (if only it hadn’t been swiped by marauding bands of burly warlords). His Machiavellian mission companion Cunningham, however, claims to have a better plan: to win over the skeptic Africans by spicing up the teachings of the holy scriptures with a little touch of the imagination in order to cater to their third-world worries and woes.
As everyone’s faith is put to the test, the resonating inner debate goes as follows: if the stories one chooses to believe in does more collective and individual good than harm, does it truly matter if it’s veridical or otherwise?
First timers be forewarned: the spectacle is blasphemous, politically incorrect, and merciless in lampooning Mormonism (and, presumably, organized religion in general). For those somewhat familiar with Parker and Stone’s aforementioned cult TV cartoon series, you’ll at least know the pedigree of obscenities you’re up against. This is South Park without network censorship.
If one can momentarily open their hearts and minds to the legion of F-bombs, jokes of genital mutilation, and visceral imagery, however (the show is notorious for having batches of appalled paying patrons leave at intermission), The Book of Mormon renders an unexpectedly redemptive message of faith and friendship that underscores even the most far-fetched of profanities.
Indeed, its winning recipe consists of irreverence combined with humanity in its satire of religion. (If anything, it’s arguably more insulting for its stereotypical depiction of a misinformed, AIDS-infected Ugandan populace.)
Furthermore, it pushes the proverbial envelope of musical theatre while still adhering to the art form’s classical conventions. With its numerous verbal and visual references to other Broadway favourites, it’s an affectionate tribute to the genre.
And yet, we’ve always found Mormon to be the perfect gateway show for the musical misanthrope. It’s camp but not cheese, and its self-awareness of its own folly makes it all the more accessible.
For connoisseurs of the act who want to know if it’s as good as it was when it first opened on the Great White Way in 2011, well… we won’t pull an Arnold here with embellished phrases. It’s difficult to avoid comparisons. Let’s just say we’ve been more bedazzled by previous individual performances, here in Montreal and abroad.
The fact that the show as a whole is still as enrapturing as ever, though, is perhaps a testament to the standalone strength of the material.
Conner Peirson as Cunningham is the standout in this revisiting production with an irresistibly endearing characterization of the goofy sidekick who grows in star power as the plot progresses. Gabe Gibbs is equally charming in his portrayal of Price, even if a bit wavering on the vocal front. PJ Adzima also deserves a worthy mention for his ravishing turn as the closeted Elder McKinley. Finally, as the emotional anchor of the narrative, Leanne Robinson is ethereal in Nabulungi’s soaring ballads, sending us into an eargasm of sorts. “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” was the singing highlight of the night.
We herein reaffirm our assessment, alas, that the hindmost half of Mormon is the dozier of the parts with its mouthful of reprises and forgettable tunes such as “I Am Africa”. Even in their mild lethargy past the midway mark, however, we still suspect the colourful cast of the Elders & Co. have taken to the stage of Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on forbidden doses of caffeine. Parker, Stone, and Lopez’s mostly up-tempo songs accompanied by Casey Nicholaw’s high-energy choreography dispatch us early on to an earthly paradise of feel-good entertainment. At “Two By Two” sides are already split. Then, with showstoppers such as the fab tap number “Turn It Off”, all qualms and quibbles fade into the abyss.
Heck, at this point, The Book of Mormon is fundamentally critic-proof anyway.
Ann Roth’s costumes and Scott Pask’s set designs are even more sublime at a third glance, whose extraordinary craftsmanship are perhaps best showcased in the inspired Luciferian pageant “Joseph Smith American Moses” and “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” The contrast of the clean and pressed against the run-down and ragged expressly gestures towards the divide of class, gender, and race that still persevere in this latter day and age.
All said and done, the ticket-you-couldn’t get three years ago still stands as the hottest stub in Montreal musical theatre this season. For the impossible to offend, it’s a surefire hilarious and heartwarming escapade. For the agnostic, it’s well worth taking a look.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
As a former member of the Latter-Day Saints Church who lived in Utah for over seven years and has an intimacy with the actual book, I compose this review with a rather invested and peculiar perspective. My respect for the church has yet to taper, especially in light of how it has so graciously reacted to the juggernaut (and all of its theological inaccuracies). In the borrowed words of creator Matt Stone, the musical is truly “an atheist’s love letter to religion”, passionately painting a positive portrait of the LDS community I continue to admire.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes (including one 15-minute intermission)
Rating: 12+ plus (contains explicit language)