Our favourite Mormon boys and their pals are back in the Tony Award-winning musical comedy, The Book of Mormon, presented by Broadway Across Canada. This cheeky musical from the creators of South Park combines fun, adult humour with valid commentary and insightful perspectives on society – the perfect balance of lightheartedness and intelligence. And while this is the third touring production of the show, this version is as fresh as ever, pumped up with exciting, youthful talent.
The show pokes fun at the Mormon religion, including its history and the practice of sending missionaries into the world to convert people. Considered a rite of passage for young Mormon men, missions are two-years in length and can be started when a Mormon turn 19-years-old. Side note – while males have traditionally been encouraged to embark on missions, the opportunity has been opened to females in recent decades. What never changes, is that missionaries are grouped into pairs and can be sent anywhere in the world.
In this particular story, we follow the journeys of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, two white boys from suburban America, who are awkwardly paired as a missionary duo and sent to serve their missions in an impoverished, war-torn area of Uganda.
In the roles of Elder Kevin Price and Elder Arnold Cunningham, Kevin Clay and Conner Peirson are delightfully refreshing. Clay’s portrayal of Price is an appropriate mix of naivety, charm and a slight bit of arrogance. He carries himself with great poise and knocks it out of the park in his big solo, “I believe”, with his excellent singing and characterization.
As Cunningham, Peirson’s many one-liners always come at the perfect time with hilarious delivery. He is a dynamite showman, nailing his choreography and vocal delivery in all his numbers with skillful characterization. Most notably, he’s great to watch at the end of the first act when his character finds his confidence and rocks the song-and-dance number, “Man Up”. And Peirson is appropriately awkward in the tongue-in-cheek “Baptize me”, which draws a parallels between baptism and a first-time sexual experience.
Kayla Pecchioni is dazzling as the female lead, Nabulungi, a young woman who tries to save her people from the tyranny of the local warlord. Like Clay and Peirson, Pecchioni is a young up-and-coming performer, and her youthful exuberance and energy shines. Her nativity and innocence makes her solo “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” touching. She has an impressive vocal range, and her vocal control is outstanding, particularly evident in the changes of dynamic that she masters. She’s also a ton of fun, showcasing great comic ability in “Baptize Me” with Peirson, and sass in choreographic numbers such as “Joseph Smith American Moses”.
Pecchioni’s most brilliant moment in the show is when she belts out her emotions in "Hasa Diga Eebowai" (Reprise). You can feel the anger and sorrow in her voice, and its heart wrenching. Pecchioni is an incredibly talented triple threat performer.
Another shining talent in this show is Andy Huntington Jones, who plays the sexually insecure Elder McKinely. Jones is fabulous, equipped with charismatic stage presence, sensational dancing, and very strong singing and acting. He leads the Clay, Peirson, and the energetic and talented ensemble in “Turn in off”, where we the young missionaries break out into classic Broadway tap choreography.
I often watch performers when they’re not the centre of attention onstage, to see how they maintain character, and I was really impressed when watching Jones in the final number. The passion he displayed, both inwardly and externally was quite compelling – clearly, the lyrics and music in the final number has an internal meaning to him and/or his character, and it makes his performance multi-layered, interesting and next level. Jones is a true artist.
The ensemble is wonderful – an impressive group of triple threat performers who nail their characterizations with amazing humour, and tear the stage up in the group numbers. There are the Uganda villagers who bring genuine spirit and soul to “Hasa Diga Eebowai”, where we learn how f*cked the village is. Another amazing moment in the show is “Joseph Smith American Moses”, where the villagers put on a show to try to show the Mormon church leaders what they’ve been taught about Mormon history. The comedic delivery in this number, combined with the excellent singing and dancing is to die for.
Equally impressive, but very different in style, is the ensemble who portray the young Mormon missionaries. Their innocent charm is fun to watch. As noted above, “Turn in off” is a show highlight; “I am Africa” is also quite entertaining, when we see the group of clean-cut, all-white males believing they’re one with Africa.
As you’ve probably gathered, the show is satirical. And the show only works if there’s satire oozing out from every pore. Trey Parker, one of the show’s creators and directors, has had a heavy hand in this. And since physical movement is a major piece in bringing this story to life, it’s logical that the show’s other director, Casey Nicholaw, also choreographed the show. Nicholaw’s choreography is outstanding – a mix of old school musical theatre, Disney, and African. Dance captain Kenny Francoeur and assistant dance captain Tsilala Brock have done a great job at keeping the choreography sharp and fresh – something that can be challenging over the run of a long tour.
The Book of Mormon is a brilliant musical for a few reasons. Yes, there’s the show’s much-publicized humour. This obviously isn’t a family show. But I don’t find the humour as crude as it’s been heralded as. Yes, there’s a lot of swears and a lot of dirty (some sexual, some just plain dirty) references throughout the show. But it’s all perfectly in line with the show’s story and characters. And there’s really nothing too adult in the show – there’s no nudity, sex, or anything in that realm.
Moreover, the story doesn’t slander the Mormon religion or anyone for that matter. Yes, it pokes fun at Mormonism, but it also pokes fun at everyone else as well. And without the constant humour and shock from hearing swear words, etc., the show’s story would be difficult to watch. It deals with impoverished people, and shows an example of why societies may turn to religion. The Book of Mormon is one of the smartest, well-rounded shows I’ve ever seen. It has everything – great performances, choreography, humour, and deeper layers within the story. Pumped with youthful talent, this touring production is a must-see.
Broadway Across Canada’s The Book of Mormon continues at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, until September 30. Visit Broadway Across Canada’s website for more ticket information.