God Brings the House Down.

By Alan Hustak on December 6, 2014

book_of_mormon_02.jpgAt first glance, The  Book  of  Mormon  which arrived at Place des Arts last week thanks to Evenko promotions  is a send-up of a home grown, American made religion.  But it is more than that.  It is a refreshingly  irreverent  Broadway musical inspired by the gospel of South Park and at the same time it is also  a subliminal meditation on faith and the  awareness of the life of any lived  religion.  Behind the laughter it provokes is the nagging question:, what is faith and why do the faithful of any religion  believe what they believe?

The show addresses the hypocrisy of religious fundamentalism and lampoons the ability of people to cherry pick their beliefs. It is offensive as you might suspect.  The  very religion  it satirizes, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints,   have  taken an ad  in the program urging the audience to reflect on their beliefs after they have seen the show by reading the Book of Mormon.

book_of_mormon_01.jpgThe musical  opens with a spectacular tableau of  the risen and ascended radioactive Jesus arriving in upstate New York  to visit one of the lost tribes  of Israel.  That leads to a thumbnail sketch of the church history. Then a cast of clean cut all American boys sing  the opening number, Hello and cheerfully convert usWhat follows are  dazzling production numbers reminiscent of The Lion King, Wicked, The King and I, Jesus Christ Superstar and Chorus Line. Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone who wrote the  wicked  script  have clearly been inspired by the best of Broadway. 

The story moves into high gear when one of the young missionaries,  Elder Price (Gavin Creel) has his  faith shaken when he is paired with an obnoxious geek of a partner Elder Cunningham  (Christopher John O’Neill) and both are dispatched to Uganda to make converts, They arrive to discover crude pagan tribal  rituals and a pointed contempt for missionaries expressed in rousing and no uncertain terms.  In order to win souls, Elder Cunningham comes up with a silly and sacrilegious reinvention of the Book of Mormon which is tailor made to suit the triball concerns of the  African villiage.  Along the way there are  jokes about  AIDS,  homosexuality, genital mutilation,  racism,  child abuse, but all woven so deftly into the script that only a prude could take  offense.  The production numbers are sensational. There is a  show stopping  dream sequence, “spooky Mormon Hell,”  an uproarious show within a show  “The small  house of Uncle Thomas, ” an anthem of faith, “I Believem” and a though provoking dance  routine and hymn to repression, “Turn it Off,” It is unfair to single anyone out in an ensemble as good as this one, but kudos must go to Richard  Creed,  the antics of Christopher John O’Neill,  Alexandra Ncube, who plays  Nabulungi  and Stanley Wayne Mathis  as the tribal leader  Mafala. Scott Pask’s scenic design and Ann Roth’s costumes are breathtaking.  The orchestra in the pit is live and the cast seems to be as big and as committed  as the tabernacle choir.

I suspect even the Pope would approve. 


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