It is rare for me to argue that the less you know about something, the better off you are. But that is precisely my view of the Tony-Award winning musical The Book of Mormon, which just opened at the Pantages Theatre. This show is so outrageous and funny, listening to the CD or hearing much about the show before seeing it would spoil the jokes. But it isn’t all jokes here.
A Mormon odd couple, Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner) are sent to Uganda to spread the word about the Mormon faith and its good book (the “third book of the bible” you don’t already know about). They find themselves in a horribly impoverished village facing a litany of threats that make their mission nearly impossible but allow creators Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez to shine brilliantly.
Teaming up Avenue Q’s Lopez with South Park’s Parker and Stone means the audience is in for arguably the most irreverent Best Musical in the history of Broadway. What impresses most about The Book of Mormon is that for all the tasteless jokes, the show has real heart. Just when you think you have it figured out, the show’s creators reveal a sentimental side that would be perfectly at home in a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.
Mr. Creel, looking a lot like a young Mitt Romney (no doubt intentionally), brings a charming arrogance to the role of Elder Price. Mr. Gertner is appropriately obnoxious as Elder Cunningham, but he can definitely sing in a wide range of styles. Samantha Marie Ware as Nabulungi, the local girl who first pays serious attention to the guys, has a gorgeous voice and serves as the perfect counterpoint to the rest of the show.
I first saw The Book of Mormon in New York last year. My second experience with the show reminded me of how earthquakes impact us. The main quake is shocking, scary, and even thrilling; the aftershocks less so. Because I know the music and the jokes, The Book of Mormon worked the same way. It was still very enjoyable, but it would be impossible for the shock value of the material to hit me the same way. That being said, it remains one of the most audacious musicals I’ve ever seen. For those who haven’t seen it, you will no doubt experience all the thrills I did on opening night. Shield yourself from details and you will believe as well.