Wednesday evening arrivals at the Orpheum were greeted near the front doors by friendly young men in white shirts, carrying religious literature. Mormons. Sure. Why not? The musical The Book of Mormon was on display inside. And further inside, within the program book, the prosperous Church of the Latter Day Saints had bought two full-page ads “You’ve seen the play,” said one. “Now read the book.”
Hey, there’s gold in them there tablets. And the worshipful audience cheered and laughed with delight to be among each other, as if some kind of congregation, at this Tony-lauded hit. Maybe many people had seen it before and must have loved being re-connected.
For those who already know the premise, such a visit as this to the gags and outrageous aspects could re-tickle the funny bones. Certainly, though, this famed show biz experience clearly displays original, well-conceived and executed theatrical invention offering much more than laughs. And this cast came across as a wonderful ensemble full of vitality, versatility and vivacity.
Premise, just in case: two young Mormons, Elders Price and Cunningham, given their missionary positions, are on spiritual assignment. They aim to gather points so that their tickets to Heaven can be stamped “approved” in gold letters by propagating the essence of their scriptures with the inhabitants of a remote village in Uganda. In this alien enclave, the locals have other more pressing issues such as AIDS, poverty, famine and the oppression of warlord General Butt-Xxxxing Naked. The natives find release by singing and dancing, of course.
There are many other developments along the way, but, given that all finally works out well, you can understand that the Church could go along with the fun.
Casey Nicolaw and Trey Parker’s direction and choreography kept it all moving vigorously and smoothly, with an impressive array of scene and costume inventions by Scott Pask and Ann Roth, especially realized in the wildly comic dream of hell wherein Price is racked with guilt for a youthful transgression.
Sometimes the performing looked overplayed, especially by Cody Jamison Strand as Elder Cunningham, who relied too often on yelling. At other times, he seemed to be rushing through other lines, not helped by the aggressive sound system, muddying up things. By the second act, though that technology appeared to have better modulated.
Some of musical numbers felt longer than necessary, which may also be attributed to the limited originality of the music, most of which has generic pleasantness rather than melodic imagination.
The songs and the book are by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. They had already made names for themselves with Avenue Q and the animated TV series South Park. Since this show opened to wild acclaim in 2011, Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez wrote the songs for Disney’s Frozen. Plus they won an Oscar two years ago for a song from it“Let It Go” a Grammy-winner last year. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Lopez. Their buddies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trey_Parker and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Stone.
Incidentally the program book lacks a list of the songs, an unusual oversight and a disappointing one.You can find them and more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Mormon_(musical)
A reminder, just in case, there’s an alert warning about “explicit language.” i.e pegged as being only for allegedly mature audiences. Except that the humor most likely especially pleases those who’ve only recently been licensed to drive and qualified to vote. Yet, riper folk no doubt will grin and guffaw. Forget about subtlety, OK?
This satire dwells on innocence, that of the boys and the natives, despite the profanity. That makes sense, given that Stone calls it “an atheist's love letter to religion.” It definitely comes loaded with impressive elements, even the second time around.
The Book of Mormon reveals itself through June 5 at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. -Thurs.: 7:30 p.m., Fri.: 8 p.m., Sat.: 2 & 8 p.m., Sun.: 1:30 & 7 p.m. Tickets: $40-$125. www.omahaperformingarts.org