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[Review] The Book Of Mormon In Detroit

I’m going to admit this right away: I pretty much hate musicals. I don’t know what it is but I just can’t get into them and it confuses me because many of the bands I listen to are basically musical theater with some distortion thrown in. Musicals such as The Phantom Of The Opera and The Wizard Of Oz just irritated me and the only ones I can think of that I really enjoyed were Little Shop Of Horrors, Evil Dead: The Musical, and Cannibal: The Musical (note: I don’t count Nightmare Before Christmas as a musical but know that I do love it).

However, something that I’ve always loved was South Park and the films of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Each of their films is nothing short of hilarious and they are often incredibly witty and clever in their own way. It’s because of this love that I was so excited to hear about their Broadway show The Book Of Mormon. The guys have already tackled the Mormon faith before in the fantastic South Park episode “All About Mormons” and their outrageous yet raucously funny NC-17 film Orgazmo. So them doing a Broadway show with Mormonism as a central theme made perfect sense to me.

Getting to the point, I was invited to watch a performance of The Book Of Mormon on its national tour stop in Detroit, MI at the Fisher Theater. Below are my thoughts on the performance and the story as a whole.

Let’s get the production aspect of this review out of the way, shall we? The performance was nothing short of spectacular. The sets were rich and created great atmosphere. Also, the people behind the set changes moved with almost breakneck speed. It really was amazing seeing how quickly a set was changed for a new scene (some changes were done in mere seconds).

The choreography was spot on. The actors knew their precise place and reaction time down to the millisecond. Since a good deal of the humor was heavily assisted by the choreography, this was incredibly important and they all got it.

The lighting was also something to marvel. From making convincing sunsets to highlighting specific areas of the stage to reflecting off of disco balls so as to illuminate the whole theater, the lighting nailed it all.

Perhaps the only complaint I have with the production aspect was that there were a few times when I couldn’t understand the lyrics or some voices overpowered others. These minor sound issues, as a whole, did not stop the production from being nearly flawless.

So now let’s get to the story itself, because this is where things get a bit interesting.

The basic plot of The Book Of Mormon is that two 19-year old Mormons are sent to Uganda as their two-year mission. Elder Price (played by Mark Evans) was hoping and praying that he might be sent to Orlando, Florida, the most wonderful place he ever remembers. Meanwhile, Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill) is a rather interesting Mormon specimen in that he doesn’t exactly know the faith that well and he also happens to be a liar. A big one. Like, huge. While I won’t spoil anything, let’s just say his lies are an integral part of the story.

The two go to Uganda where they join their brothers-in-arms to help convert a local village that happens to be under the threat of a local warlord, one General Butt-Fucking-Naked (Derrick Williams). Yes, that is his actual name. This General wants to circumcise all the women in the village, something is of great concern to everyone, including Mafala Hatimbi (Kevin Mambo) who fears for the safety of his daughter, Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware).

And with these plot points in hand, so begins the adventures of The Book Of Mormon.

I have to say that the first act, while funny, created several issues for me. Things were brought up as jokes that are not guilt-free humor, such as a line in the song “Hasa Diga Eebowai” that goes, “And 80% of us have AIDS!” During the song it’s amusing but it’s impossible to forget that AIDS is a real epidemic in Africa. Or when there is a part where the discussion of baby rape comes up because it’s said to cure AIDS. Yeah, that actually happens. And female circumcision? Huge issue in Africa. So while there is humor in the immediacy of the jokes/songs, they don’t have staying power because they’re simply too true and too real to remain funny.

In point of fact, the entire first act of the performance is full of jokes that are meant to offend and the story ends up as being very shallow.

However, the second acts completely flips things over and the end result is a story that is incredibly deep and touching, from Nabulungi’s feelings of betrayal by Elder Cunningham to Elder Price’s crisis of faith. The songs also become more interesting and far more clever, such as the hilarious “Baptize Me” in which Elder Cunningham and Nabulungi have a very sexually charged back-and-forth duet that is actually very innocent.

By the end of The Book Of Mormon, the story went from immature, tawdry humor to something that inspires discussion and reflection. It raises meaningful questions, such as does it matter what religion we believe in so long as we are inspired to better ourselves and those around us? It is a story that will keep you thinking for days.

Also, as a horror fan, I feel that I have to mention the fantastic “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”. Elder Price has a vivid dream where he enters Hell and is surrounded by demons, skeletons, Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolf Hitler, the Devil, and more. This tickled my love of all things macabre and evil.

The Final Word: The Book Of Mormon’s Detroit, MI stop in the Fisher Theater is a must-see experience. When the tour comes near you, make sure you are waiting in line for tickets as this is something you don’t want to miss.

Banner photo credit:
THE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour Company
THE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour
(c) Joan Marcus, 2013

Story photo credit:
THE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour Company
THE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour
(c) Joan Marcus, 2013

Got any thoughts/questions/concerns for Jonathan Barkan? Shoot him a message on Twitter or on Bloody-Disgusting!




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