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Thursday May 14, 2015

 

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Written by Alan Hustak for VMO
Monday, December 8th, 2014

At first glance, The Book of Mormon, which arrived at Place des Arts last week thanks to Evenko promotions, is a send-up of a home grown, American made religion.  But it is more than that.  It is a refreshingly irreverent  Broadway musical inspired by the gospel of South Park and at the same time  is also  a subliminal meditation on faith and the  awareness of the life of any lived  religion.  Behind the laughter it provokes is the nagging question: What is faith and why do the faithful of any religion believe what they believe?   The show addresses the hypocrisy of religious fundamentalism and lampoons the ability of people to cherry pick their beliefs. It is offensive as you might suspect, offensive in the same way that Tom Leher’s Vatican Rag is offensive to Catholics.  The very religion the Book of Mormon satirizes, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, has taken an advertisment  in the program urging the audience to reflect on their beliefs after they have seen the show.  

The musical opens with a spectacular tableau of the risen and ascended radioactive Jesus arriving in upstate New York to visit one of the lost tribes of Israel.  That leads to a thumbnail sketch of the Church history. Then a cast of clean cut all American boys sing the opening number, “Hello” and cheerfully convert us. What follows are dazzling production numbers reminiscent of The Lion King, Wicked, The King and I, Jesus Christ Superstar and Chorus Line.  Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, who wrote the wicked script, have clearly been inspired by the best of Broadway.

The story moves into high gear when one of the young missionaries, Elder Price (Richard Creed) has his faith shaken after he is paired with an obnoxious geek of a partner Elder Cunningham  (Christopher John O’Neill) and both are dispatched to Uganda to make converts, They arrive to discover crude pagan tribal rituals and a pointed contempt for missionaries expressed in rousing and no uncertain X-rated terms.

In order to win souls, Elder Cunningham comes up with a silly and sacrilegious reinvention of the Book of Mormon which is tailor made to suit the tribal concerns of the African village.  Along the way there are  jokes about  AIDS,  homosexuality, genital mutilation,  racism,  child abuse, but all woven so deftly into the script that only the aberrantly sensitive could take  offense.  The production numbers are sensational. There is a  show stopping  dream sequence, “Spooky Mormon Hell,”  an uproarious show within a show  “The Small  House of Uncle Thomas, ” an anthem of faith, “I Believe” and a thought provoking dance  routine and hymn to repression, “Turn it Off.” It is unfair to single anyone out in an ensemble as good as this one but kudos must go to Richard Creed,  the antics of Christopher John O’Neill,  Alexandra Ncube, who plays  Nabulungi  and Stanley Wayne Mathis  as the tribal leader  Mafala. Scott Pask’s scenic design and Ann Roth’s costumes are breathtaking.  The orchestra in the pit is live and the cast seems to be as big and as committed as the tabernacle choir.

I suspect even the Pope would approve.

 

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