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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 11, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 2
Hello! - Go see The Book of Mormon (if you can)
Arts & Entertainment
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Hello! - Go see The Book of Mormon (if you can)

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

THE BOOK OF MORMON PARAMOUNT THEATRE Through January 20 Lottery drawing held for each performance (details below)

Unless you have been living under a theatrical rock, you've heard about the mega-hit musical The Book of Mormon. Written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker (creators of TV's South Park) and Robert Lopez (co-writer of Avenue Q), the musical opened on Broadway with an incredibly established, built-in audience that has proven to be as loyal and infectious as any investor could wish. Selling out in the previous cities of its newly launched national tour, the musical parodies several classics of theater - and, of course, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. While for the most part it clearly illustrates the doctrines of the Mormon faith, it also unleashes a sharp-edged lampooning with situations that contain explicit language and even spiritual mockery (which may be offensive to the more sensitive audience member) - but, as with South Park, it is all executed with highly comical effect.

AN UNLIKELY TWOSOME
At the training center for Mormon missionaries in Utah, two young and ambitious men are paired together and sent out to convert the world. Elder Kevin Price, head of the class, dreams of being stationed in his beloved city of Orlando. Instead, he is paired with the least promising candidate, Elder Arnold Cunningham, and the two are sent to rural Uganda. In a village ravished by AIDS, famine, poverty, and a local warlord, these very perky Mormon initiates try to spread the gospel of Joseph Smith to the locals. Although their faith is repeatedly put to the test, the two men, with the help of a village girl (whose name is consistently mispronounced, with very funny variances), ultimately rise to the challenge.

Mark Evans plays the overly ambitious Elder Price with a gregarious eagerness to accomplish what he believes 'Heavenly Father' wants for his mission, only to be met by great doubt. His squeaky-clean image (picture the Superman pose with squared-off shoulders) is portrayed so well that the audience waits for a cartoon sparkle to reflect off his frequently presented smile. The animated charm comes easily and the comic timing is struck perfectly. He is a walking cartoon right out of a '50s comic book, and he sings with a clear and strong voice.

Samantha Marie Ware is the beautiful village girl, Nabulungi. She imbues the young neophyte who, facing the dregs of her daily life, becomes enraptured with the idea of a paradise somewhere in Utah. Ms. Ware's voice is impressive whether she is singing softly or belting within her vocal range, and this role requires both. Her onstage persona imbues one of an idealistic innocence - she sings of her ravished village as if it were a lullaby.

O'NEILL STEALS THE SHOW
Christopher John O'Neill plays Elder Cunningham, the highly eager but inept initiate who embellishes his way through Smith's teachings. Mixing the lessons of Mormon scripture with Star Wars, Star Trek, and even Lord of the Rings, he does his best to pass on the true meaning of faith. Starting as a 'sidekick' to Elder Price, the role of Elder Cunningham quickly takes center stage in almost every scene he is in - and that's due completely to O'Neill's talent. Through the simplest of gestures or facial expressions he sends out the call for laughter, and the audience responds in spades. Christopher John O'Neill and Mark Evans connect well on stage sharing synergy, and the audience responds with full appreciation.

The ensemble cast is excellent with several individual performances standing out. Grey Henson as Elder McKinley, who has Gay thoughts but never acts on them, is absolutely hysterical in every scene. Mike McGowan as Joseph Smith is given few lines but communicates the humor with a gesture or a stance. Josh Breckenridge as the Doctor with an ailment he doesn't understand is another character given random lines, but he delivers them with full comic expression and timing.

THINGS TO CONSIDER
Is this show offensive? That depends on who you are, what kind of sense of humor you have, and if you are the type offended by explicit language. What some would call blasphemous statements others would call friggin' funny dialogue and situations - it's really up to the individual to decide. Most major religions have had fun poked at them via theater at one time or another, so I guess the Mormon faith should take it as an inclusive compliment.

The Book of Mormon opened on Broadway February 24, 2011, and is currently running to sold-out performances with an estimated nine-month wait for tickets. Nominated for 14 Tony Awards in 2011, The Book of Mormon won nine, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score. In 2012, the soundtrack CD won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.

TRY YOUR LUCK
Catching this show during its all-too-brief two-week run at the Paramount won't be easy, alas - but it's possible. A nightly lottery is held for a very limited number of $25 tickets. Entry forms are available at the box office 2½ hours prior to each performance, and the drawing takes place two hours before curtain time. Entrants must be present to win. One entry is allowed per person, with a maximum of two tickets per winner. Cash or credit card is accepted for payment, and valid ID is required. Paramount officials emphasize that these rules are strictly enforced.

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