“Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.
This is a special edition of Katz Reviews because today I review ‘The Book of Mormon’ at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven. Ordinarily, my reviews air Tuesday mornings but the run for ‘Book of Mormon’ ends this Sunday, so my review is airing today to give you a chance to catch the show before it closes Sunday, if you like.
I first saw ‘Book of Mormon’ on Broadway with the original cast just before its official opening night, back in 2011. Hard to believe it has been six-and-a-half years already.
Back then it was considered so shocking and offensive that several people in the audience walked out during the show. Clearly, many didn’t know what to expect. As far as I could tell, nobody left their seats at Wednesday night’s performance- except at the end to give the cast a standing ovation.
If you aren’t familiar with it, ‘Book of Mormon’ was created by the team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the two who conceived of TV’s clever but offensive cartoon ‘South Park’ and also Bobby Lopez, the Yale grad who helped create the big hit puppet musical, ‘Avenue Q,’ which had some shock value, as well.
Here, that team of three have created a live action musical that, well, shocks and offends. But it is much more than that. This show is extremely well-conceived. And it features excellent choreography by Casey Nicholaw.
It tells the story of two young adult Mormons, Elders Price and Cunningham, played by Gabe Gibbs and Conner Peirson, and their missionary journey to Uganda to convert the natives to Mormons- only the natives have bigger matters on their minds: like AIDS, famine and murder and/or sexual mutilation by a local warlord and his thugs.
The juxtaposition of the two very white, very green young Mormon missionaries with the local Ugandans- and how they interact- is the source of much of the humor in the show.
The creative team smartly uses this as a platform to tell the story of the origin of the Mormon religion- skewering it in the process- while also taking broad swipes at Christianity and Judaism, too. And repressed homosexuality.
Yes, ‘Book of Mormon’ is an equal opportunity offender- though the Mormons take the brunt of their good humored attacks.
While in the light of current events in 2017, it doesn’t seem quite so offensive anymore, the show is still smart and clever and features several terrific songs with a solid cast who handled the song and dance with gusto.
Kim Exum plays a young Ugandan woman who – out of desperation for a better life- decides she has nothing to lose by trying to help Elder Cunningham convert her people. She’s wonderful and has a sensational voice.
Gabe Gibbs, as Elder Price, does an excellent job, too and he has a strong voice and danced superbly in the role originated by the amazing Andrew Rannells.
Conner Peirson, as Elder Arnold Cunningham, gives a very capable performance in the role responsible for much of the show’s humor, but he isn’t quite Josh Gad, who created the role on Broadway and could elicit big laughs by merely adjusting his glasses on his nose.
Rannells and Gad were a comic duo worthy of Martin and Lewis or Abbott and Costello, whereas these two can’t quite attain those lofty heights.
But they are solid performers and ‘Book of Mormon’ is still a skillful, extremely clever show that’s a lot of fun- even while being pretty obscene- and I give it 4 stars out of 5. Again, it’s run at the Shubert in New Haven ends this Sunday. October 1st.
Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews.
This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”