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Book of Mormon (Review)

No joke (well, maybe): This show will change your life

By Rick Pender · January 9th, 2014 · Onstage
mormonElder Cunningham (Christopher John O'Neill) gives Ugandans his own version of faith. - Photo: Joan Marcus

Critic's Pick

Have faith. That’s the hilarious lesson of The Book of Mormon, crusading for laughter in its current missionary effort, er, touring stop, Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center. While a few local bluenoses might be initially offended by the show’s sacrilegious language and actions (one song has natives in Uganda flipping the bird to the almighty) and joyously crude subject matter, the night I attended, most everyone in the audience became a true believer.

Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints placed two pages of serious advertising in the production’s playbill, this show — from the creators of South Park and Avenue Q — steps a long way from the earnest images that the church’s young men in crisp white, short-sleeved shirts and black ties are trained to convey, a process lightheartedly portrayed in the opening number, “Hello.” But you’ll come away from this show with a strong conviction that, regardless of subject matter, humanity needs faith (the song “I Believe” lists tenets of faith from the sublime to the ridiculous) to cling to, convictions rooted in what might seem silly stories.

The Book of Mormon is told with such humor and musical spark that it would be hard not to enjoy. There are toe-tapping tunes that will stick in your head and moments of satirical comedy that rival any tomfoolery you’ll see on Saturday Night Live.

Touring productions endeavor to replicate hit shows from Broadway, where The Book of Mormon won nine Tony Awards. This tour takes no shortcuts, with an energetic cast of 30. Scott Pask’s vibrant scenic design (piously framed by the outline of the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City) shifts cinematically from a wasted village in Uganda to reverent Biblical scenes to a “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” replete with tap-dancing devils.

Mark Evens, as the clean-cut, egotistical Elder Price who yearns to be assigned to Orlando, Fla., and Christopher John O’Neill, playing Elder Cunningham, the compulsive liar who wins over the Ugandans with wildly embellished religious stories, do remarkable jobs with roles that were Tony-nominated by others on Broadway. Samantha Marie Ware, as the innocent Nabulungi, sings gloriously and charms her way through the arc of a becoming a believer.

Don’t doubt. Just go see The Book of Mormon. You’ll be converted.

BOOK OF MORMON, presented by Broadway Across America at the Aronoff Center, continues through Jan. 26.



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