The Book of Mormon returns to DFW with a stop at Fort Worth’s Bass Hall this Week and the big question is can this show really be worth all the hype. The answer is YES! The winner of 9 Tony’s, 5 Drama Desk Awards and a Grammy is currently running on Broadway and with some 1,960 performances so far it has enjoyed a longer shelf life than Evita, Dreamgirls and Funny Girl.
Created by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone with the man behind the music of Avenue Q and Frozen, Robert Lopez you know going in that you are going to get an irreverent look at the Mormon religion, but one with great tunes.
The religious satire highlights the church’s use of missionaries to spread the gospel of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its founder Joseph Smith. According to Smith Jesus came to America the three day’s between his crucifixion and resurrection. During that time Jesus buried golden plates in what some eighteen hundred years later would be Smiths’ backyard in Rochester, New York. An angel appears to Smith instructing him to uncover the plates and not share them with anyone but the spread their message throughout the world.
Smith never did show or share the plates with anyone but translated what was on the plates into the Book of Mormon and then set off to create a New Jerusalem in America. His original plan was to headquarter the church in Jackson County, Missouri but the church was run out of the county and later the state by order of the Governor. Smith was shortly thereafter murdered and leadership of the church was assumed by Brigham Young. The challenges in the east lead the church to what would become its’ new Promised Land Salt Lake City, Utah. You may think that this is all the creativity of the South Park writing team, but this is Mormon history.
Interestingly, the play is fairly accurate in retelling the history of Smith and the church. The church itself has seized on the popularity of the show with three full page ads in the playbill promoting the Book of Mormon touting “The Book is Always Better” among other messages highlighting the church website.
The show focuses on two missionaries, who as new graduates of the church’s missionary school are about to be sent out into the world in pairs to spread the word. It’s a classic Martin and Lewis pairing. The star of the class and the class buffoon, are sent to Uganda to spread the word.
In Uganda they are placed in a village overwrought with AIDS, extreme poverty and living under constant fear of a violent warlord that wants to circumcise all the women in the village. Those are the story lines that are fit to print.
This show definitely has all the edge you expect from South Park but it also portrays a sensitivity that I did not expect. You will fall in love with Alexandra Ncube as Nabulungi. Her voice is pure and strong as the female lead. Billy Harrigan Tighe as Elder Price plays the star pupil in thrown into chaos well.
While a Steller cast throughout, this show belongs to A. J Holmes. His fly by the seat of his pants missionary uses quick thinking and imagination to convert an entire village to the Mormon faith. He owns the stage whenever he is on it and is incredible fun to watch.
The show has suffered with replacements from it’s Dallas Run, the lead role has been recast, and while Holmes played Elder Cunningham for most of the Dallas run, the character was all it was when played on Broadway by Josh Gad (Olaf in Frozen) when played in Dallas by Chad Burris. That said, Book of Mormon is still the best show I have seen this year, be it in January or December.
While Book of Mormon is not for everyone, it is one of the best nights of theater you will have if you are not to conservative. What is unexpected about the Book of Mormon is that while it does seem to lampoon the Mormon Church the greater message here is that no matter how outrageous or illogical the doctrine of any religion may seem faith is personal and there is no denying its’ power.
The Book of Mormon plays Bass Hall through Sunday. Tickets are $110-$231 and while few are available at basshall.com. Additionally, there is a lottery 2 ½ before each show that you can sign up to get up to two tickets to that performance for $25 each. The drawing is two hours before curtain and payment is cash only.
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