Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chapter and Verse in 'The Book of Mormon'

Mrs. Brown (Rema Webb) wishes Elders Price (Andrew Rannells) and Cunningham (Josh Gad) Godspeed in "The Book of Mormon." Photo by Joan Marcus.

BY TAMARA BECK

“SOUTH
Park” fans have good reason to rejoice! Co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez, who co-wrote “Avenue Q,” have turned unorthodox material into an intelligent and animated musical.

In “The Book Of Mormon,” two newly minted missionaries, Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) and Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) are sent to a small Ugandan village to convert the inhabitants to the Mormon faith.

“The Book Of Mormon,” enjoying an open run at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre and 14 Tony nominations, is colorful, inventive, offbeat and abundantly charming. It is a serious and irreverent romp.

When they arrive in the African village, the Elders Price and Cunningham are greeted by a group of people singing a rousing condemnation of the Almighty whom they blame for their many hardships, from rampant AIDS to female circumcision.

Elder Cunningham, to whom proselytizing does not come naturally, is a pudgy and sloppy figure among his well-groomed and clean-cut colleagues. He comically reshapes the scriptures and redefines them so that they have meaning for and give strength to the villagers. His connection to the Ugandans is natural and instinctual, and his preaching is completely unconnected to what the Mormons believe from the third book of the bible, “The Book Of Mormon” of the title.

Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) has a moment with the tome in "The Book of Mormon.

His understanding, like his sermonizing, is from his heart. Elder Cunningham falls in love with Nabulungi (Nikki M. James), whose name he also comically reshapes and mangles at every encounter and who returns his affections.

Ever imaginative, Elder Cunningham uses lessons he learns from sci-fi in his preaching and to inspire the people of the village. One myth is as good as another. “It’s a metaphor,” one of the villagers tells a disappointed Nabulungi who hopes that they are all literally going to a promised land in Utah.

Displeased by the young man’s successful conversion rate is the local warlord, General Butt Naked (Brian Tyree Henry); astonished are his fellow missionaries.

Standing out in this outstanding cast is JG whose innocent √©lan is completely winning. He immerses himself joyously in the ethos of “The Book Of Mormon.” Lovable as the sincere Nabulungi is NMJ.

Another highlight of “The Book Of Mormon” is a tap dance performed by a chorus of the already resident evangelists, led by Elder McKinley (Rory O’Malley).

“The Book Of Mormon” is a gentle-natured satire taking potshots at religious zealotry in general and The Latter Day Saints along the way.

Visit http://www.bookofmormonbroadway.com/ to learn more about “The Book Of Mormon.”

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