“Book of Mormon” Returns to Hartford

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Book of Mormon
Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

 The Book of Mormon is making a return visit to the Bushnell in Hartford through February 19. The show, which won a slew of Tonys including best musical, best direction, best book and best score, is still doing big business on Broadway.

From audience reaction on Wednesday evening, the musical is still amusing and delighting audiences. It is irreverent and silly; just what you might expect from the creative team (Trey Parker and Matt Stone, co-creators of South Park) and Robert Lopez who wrote Avenue Q.

 Yet at least one audience member, felt the show is more like a series of South Park like sketches that don’t make for a coherent whole.

Your response to the show may be influenced by whether you are a fan of South Park and similar humor, how much scatological humor you enjoy and how you feel about satire of religion.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of two young men going on their 2-year mission. Elder Price is the one everyone expects great things from while Elder Cunningham is the slightly nerdy, screw-up who exaggerates and fabricates stories. Instead of being assigned to Elder Price’s dream place — Orlando — they are assigned to Africa (Uganda) and a mission that so far has had no success. In fact, the local saying about the residents of the village is curse to God. In addition, the village is being menaced by a ruthless warlord.

As you might imagine, things do not go as planned for either Elder Price or Elder Cunningham. There are crises of faith, a little romance, and a lot of foolishness.

This Equity touring production does an excellent job at recreating the Broadway version with a large cast and outstanding costumes and sets. Gabe Gibbs is appropriately stalwart, eager and earnest as Elder Price and Conner Pierson is excellent as the needy Elder Cunningham. Leanne Ronison has a great voice and brings vitality to the role of Nabulungi, the love interest.  One of the running jokes is how Elder Cunningham keeps mangling her name. Another running joke include a maggot infestation in a specific part of the body.

The show features a typical Broadway musical score with several excellent songs, although the program does not list the musical numbers. You may have heard “Hello,” and “I Believe” “Hello” satirizes the Mormon’s habit of ringing visiting neighborhoods and seeking converts. Another funny song is “Turn It Off” about the ability to turn off one’s emotions; apparently the Mormon way. Many of the songs include lyrics that are not appropriate for younger children and might shock some older adults as well.

The production number, “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” will delight you with its multiple references. In fact the entire show has reverences to Star Wars, Star Trek, and other cultural phenomena.

The main flaw in this production is the sound. It is too loud so that words blue – and the lyrics are part of the humor – and it is sometimes difficult to understand. This is a common problem of shows stopping at the Bushnell. Yet every so often, such as A Gentleman’s Guide and An American in Paris the sound is so good, that you realize this isn’t a problem inherent to the theater.

So — depending on your point of view — you may find this absolutely hilarious, somewhat amusing or borderline offensive.

It is at the Bushnell through February 19. For tickets visit The Bushnell.

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