If You Haven't Seen 'The Book of Mormon,' Get to Playhouse Square Before the End of the Weekend

click to enlarge If You Haven't Seen 'The Book of Mormon,' Get to Playhouse Square Before the End of the Weekend
Joan Marcus

If you haven’t yet seen The Book of Mormon, shame on you. Go stand in the corner, and I’ll tell you when you can leave. But before you do that, give Playhouse Square a call and see if you can glom some tickets before this show leaves after this coming Sunday.

This outrageous carnival of musicality, wit and offensiveness—created from the fertile and possibly felonious minds of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone—is back in town in a touring production that sizzles from start to finish. This particular troupe has been touring for a while, but you’d never know it from that sharp, energetic and engaging performances all around.

As you probably know, it’s all about a comical and irreverent take on the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and while it is certainly rude and distasteful (for some), it is also flat out hilarious and really quite sweet. Two featured missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, are shipped off to Uganda to convert the locals.

And that challenge is illustrated in a send-up of “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King. In this version, the poverty-stricken, AIDS-beset, warlorf-domoinated Ugandans sing “Hasa Diga Eebowai” which is translated as “Fuck You, God.” Just to make their feelings clear, the song is punctuated frequently with the middle-finger salute.

This production benefits from outstanding performances in the lead roles. As Elder Price, the fellow who dreams of spending eternity in Orlando, Gabe Gibbs is a toothy force of nature as he nails songs such as “You and Me (But Mostly Me),” and “I Believe.” The latter song illustrates how the creators meld real Mormon facts with parody as he sings: “I believe the Lord God sent me here/And I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people.”

He is matched by Conner Peirson as the schlubby Elder Cunningham, a wannabe missionary who never read the Book, so he makes up his own version of the religion—featuring Star Wars characters and other random bits—to bring his flock some peace of mind. And he is particularly adorable when he romances—er, baptizes—the lovely young Nabulungi (Myha’la Herrold, who possesses way more voice than should be allowed in a person that small). They bond, even though Cunningham never gets her name right, calling her at various times Neutrogena, Netflix, Nagasaki and Nakatomi Plaza.

Also outstanding are PJ Adzima as the not-so-ambiguously gay Elder McKinley, Johnny Brantley III as the ever smiling local doctor with maggots in his throat, and Sterling Jarvis as the town’s leader Mafala.

The visual aspects of the production are also outstanding, including a scene of Mormon hell pulsing with crimson fire and populated by Jeffrey Dahmer, Johnnie Cochran and cups of Starbucks coffee (tea and coffee are forbidden to Mormons).

In short, this show is a hoot and a half, and it is performed with superb professionalism by this touring company. Something that is not always true when a show visits for just a short time. So go, laugh, smile. You deserve it.

The Book of Mormon
Through September 17 at Playhouse Square, Keybank State Theater, 1615 Euclid Ave. 216-241-6000, playhousesquare.com.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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