The long anticipated musical The Book Of Mormon has finally arrived in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theatre. The Book of Mormon is a religious satire with a book, lyrics, and music by the bad boys who created the animated comedy South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Robert Lopez, who co-wrote and co-composed Avenue Q, is their collaborator. If you are familiar with South Park and Avenue Q you know that no subject is safe from being satirized. Stone and Parker have had a longtime fascination with Mormonism and with musical comedy, and the result is an infectious lampoon of traditional musical theatre and the weirdness that is Mormonism.
The story deals with two young Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to convert the natives. Unfortunately for them the natives seem more interested in war, famine, poverty, and AIDS. The resulting cross-purposes are the subject of this truly hilarious musical. It is a comic pleasure to see the Mormon missionaries trying to cope, mostly by not thinking about it. It is also fun to see the natives grasp the Book of Mormon only after a splendid Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham, a totally inept goofball, interjects some Star Wars imagery to get them excited. His more serious or perhaps I should say more earnest partner, Gavin Creel, is first-rate as Elder Price. Another standout is Samantha Marie Ware who displays quite a set of pipes as well as terrific comic timing.
A lot can be said about The Book of Mormon: its nine Tonys, its sold-out houses in New York for months ahead, record-breaking sales here in Los Angeles. The collaboration of Parker and Stone with Lopez is a match made in Broadway musical heaven. But none of it would work if it were not for the remarkable direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw. His dances are fantastic, original, and often very very funny. His direction is right on.
My only caveat is that I think I would have liked the show better in a smaller theatre, like at the production on Broadway. Also less hype would help, because nothing could live up to the buzz surrounding this musical. Go by all means and laugh your head off, but don’t be expecting the musical to beat all other musicals. It is a satisfying musical hit full of fun songs, fantastic dances, and solid performances.
The Book of Mormon will play at The Pantages until November 25.