a kate west review
book, music, lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
directed by Casey Nicholaw (also choreographer) and Trey Parker
at the Pantages Theatre 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles
contact 1-800-982.ARTS (2787) or click here
running through November 25, 2012
The infamous foul-mouthed children of South Park (the insanely animated brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone) once had a run-in with some Mormons on the popular 2003 episode "All About Mormons". The enthusiastic religious fervor was catching at first, but soon became disillusioning as more of the back story was revealed to the characters. And because the show is based on merciless satire, the Mormons were not spared ridicule. In song (some of their best work too). So it's not surprising that several years later, the creators expanded their irreverence by combining their love of mockery with the commercialism of Broadway and thus "The Book of Mormon" was born.
Garnering coveted Tony Awards (including Best Musical 2011), "The Book of Mormon" is a (slightly) tamer version of the television episode. Primarily in order to attract audiences, the stronger sting of direct spoof is often replaced with moments of spotlighted wistful hopefulness (the kind you see in Disney musicals), although all that trademark "bad" language stayed in. In other words, it's an adult family show. And now it's in Los Angeles, right at Hollywood and Vine.
Elders Price and Cunningham (in this performance Gavin Creel and Jon Bass) are paired together by their superiors and sent to Uganda to make sure the Africans properly acknowledge the Savior. As it's not the most coveted destination (it ain't Orlando), the Mormon missionaries despair at making an impact on such a strikingly different culture. Eventually they get through (more or less anyway) to these terribly unenlightened people with song and dance and lots of swearing. Which seems to be the main appeal.
The creators play up the stereotypes, exaggerating that absurdity for effect, but that plays a little better in cartoons. On stage it becomes a more obvious joke, but the audience still eats it up. And the cruder the dialogue, the bigger the laugh. Fans of "South Park" will expect this sophomoric humor (and recognize a voiceover or two) and the rest will be drawn to the shock value. And students of pop culture will have a blast. Setting all that aside, you are left with a fairly standard coming-of-age-self-realization story. Typical Broadway fodder, but nothing life altering (and very similar to the silliness of Spamalot, another mainstreaming musical venture of a once innovative show: see Monty Python.)
The actors are all great, the musical numbers lots of fun and the pacing is briskly efficient. The opening and closing numbers where everyone rings doorbells and sings "Hello" as your friendly neighborhood evangelists are a delight. As pure entertainment, it is a professionally well done piece, but it won't change anyone's beliefs. In fact, the Mormon Church advertises in the program*, apparently giving credence to the "no such thing as bad publicity" mantra. In other words, there are no huge surprises and you pretty much know what to expect. It harkens back to "South Park" itself or the Team America movie (another Parker/Stone creation), where once the novelty wears off, we get it already.
Perhaps even more fitting, you might experience Angelino sensationalism when leaving the theater and run into the LAPD in SWAT-esque gear during a Skateboarder Riot (kid you not). That's when you really know you're in Hollywood.
*"You've seen the play, now read the book."
thebookofmormon.org (told you)
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