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Theatre Review: Prepare for Conversion by ‘The Book of Mormon’

The Book of Mormon, Broadway, Poster, Denver, TheatreAfter being the hottest ticket on Broadway for the last 14 months, The Book of Mormon is the hottest ticket in Denver right now, and will soon embark on a national tour that is sure to make headlines across the nation. Written and conceived by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (best known for the animated series South Park) along with Robert Lopez (known for Avenue Q), this irreverent, satirical story focuses on an unlikely pair of Mormon missionaries as they struggle to bring new members to the church on their unexpected mission assignment to Uganda. As you might expect, the show is R-rated and has a high shock value. But what has contributed to its record-breaking run is that it also has all of the elements of a fantastic Broadway show — well-choreographed production numbers, rousing and inspiring songs, and a central conflict that speaks to us all.

The Book of Mormon Charms and Shocks Denver

Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon. Photo by Joan Marcus

HE SAID: When you hear about a musical in created by the teams behind South Park and Avenue Q, hopefully you know what you are getting yourself into. But this musical really does surpass those expectations in the all of the best ways possible. Yes, it insults literal interpretations of religious dogma, but in the end it also celebrates faith. It honors anything that you cling to that gives you hope, courage, or just helps you be “really f-ing polite” to your fellow human beings. And it gets to that message through an onslaught of satire, cursing, humor, and unbelievably well-crafted musical numbers.

SHE SAID: When I first saw this show (after I recovered from the few times that the profanity just kept going and going), I think I most appreciated how much it poked fun at musicals just as much as religion. The character of Elder Price, in a lot of ways, is a caricature of a Broadway protagonist as well as of a young Morman Missionary — he’s clean-cut, has a dazzling smile, and more ambition and self-confidence than most of us will have in a lifetime. What could possibly go wrong? The score is also full of legitimate, undeniably hummable, perfectly styled songs. The songs are expertly placed to both move the story along and also highlight the ridiculous fact that only in musical theater would people burst into bright, cheerful song in the most dire of circumstances.

Leading Men ‘Man Up’

Ensemble of The Book of Mormon. Photo by Joan Marcus

HE SAID: Much of the show rests on the shoulders of the actors playing Elders Price and Cunningham. They are so equal, in fact, the two original actors were both nominated for a Tony Award for leading actor. For the tour, Gavin Creel is playing Elder Price, and though there has been a lot of talk about a man in his mid-30’s playing a fresh-faced 19-year-old, Creel brings a wonderful naivete to the role. For those familiar with Rannells’ Broadway performance, Creel’s fall crisis of faith felt like it was taken to a bit darker of a place, which made his transformation in the end rather genuine. Gertner, as Cunningham, was out-of-this-world hilarious. So much of that character is incredibly outlandish, but never felt forced – a masterful example of grounding a larger-than-life character.

SHE SAID: I agree that the cast of this national tour is absolutely top-notch. Creel as Elder Price has a perfect blend of experience and enthusiasm for the role. Although his vocal parts are unimaginably high, I think I was most impressed by his physicality — he is extremely active throughout the show, and he moves with incredible skill and commitment, even while singing full force simultaneously. I can’t think of a single criticism of Gertner as Elder Cunningham – I laugh just remembering the way he played several moments. He has impeccable comic timing, and he brings a legitimately trained singing voice to a role that really only requires comedic, speaky singing, which is a treat. The Mormon male ensemble is completely ON it, and my favorite numbers in the show are “Two by Two,” “Turn it Off,” and “I Am Africa” because of their collective talent and contagious energy.

Tour Brings Full Scale Design Elements Along for the Ride

Gavein Creel as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon. Photo by Joan Marcus

HE SAID: The whole cast is what really takes this brilliant script and makes it magical. The ensemble sound, especially in the African melodies, is so rich and every person really throws themselves into the choreography. Samantha Marie Ware, as the Nabalungi, also has a wonderfully moving piece in her ballad in the first act, pouring all of her emotion into it and making the genius lyrics come alive.

SHE SAID: As far as I could tell, the design elements were hardly downscaled at all from the Broadway version for this national tour. The sets, costumes and lights are all excellently coordinated, and all in smart service this extremely clever, well-written story. I can’t remember the last time that I felt that a tour had dropped so little of the Broadway production value, but with the talent on the road and the support from the design and direction, I would confidently tell someone who hasn’t been able to see it in New York that this tour is one of the best alternatives I’ve seen in a long time.

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The Book of Mormon Tour Exceeds ‘Incredible’ Expectations

THEY SAID: It’s no surprise that we (like the rest of the nation) are completely enamored with this show. If you can get past the irreverent material (and the sometimes extraneous cursing), we think that you’ll not only enjoy seeing this production, but will equally enjoy enumerating all of the ways in which it is brilliant afterwards. You’ll want to re-live the moment you realized all the levels of humor hit by one joke, or how perfectly timed a costume change was for weeks afterward. Because the biggest strength of the show is it’s incredibly modern, satirical writing, we think that it’ll hold up to the pressure of a national tour well. This show can withstand changes in cast and variations in venues, as long as the audience is willing to be a little bit shocked so that they can then be greatly touched.

The Book of Mormon is sold out for its current stay in Denver, but will return to Denver in October 2013. Click the logo below for more information on the second tour and the rest of the DCA season.

He Said She Said Denver theater theatre


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