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‘Book of Mormon’ will convert you

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The Book of Mormon

“Book of Mormon,” which took home an incredible nine Tony Awards in 2011 including Best Musical, made its debut in St. Louis at the Fabulous Fox Theatre this February.
The masterminds behind this project include Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “South Park”-fame and Robert Lopez, “Avenue Q” lyricist.  Although known for its raunchy humor and regularly sold-out audiences, I was surprised to discover this show is so much more than simply entertainment. One of the most intelligent musicals, “Book of Mormon” also has a lot of heart.  The show parodies religion and the genre of musical theatre, while paying incredible respect to these two entities. With an incredible cast, creative team, book and score, this is not a show to miss.
“Book of Mormon” transports two optimistic, young missionaries from Salt Lake City to Uganda in order to convert new members for the Church of Latter Day Saints.  The successful Elder Price (Mark Evans) is paired with screw-up and pathological liar Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill). The two must confront a one-eyed, genocidal warlord — whose name is unprintable — and a defeated group of villagers, who already have a few choice words for God. That alone is enough to test the faith of even the most optimistic gospel spreaders — and we haven’t even gotten to the guy with maggots in his scrotum.
“Book of Mormon” would not be what it is without the incredible choruses of “Mormons” and “Africans.” I completely lost count of how many characters the ensemble members have to play throughout the evening. They dance, sing and (occasionally) swear their way through side-splitting choreography and vocal numbers. There are moments when we’re maybe supposed to be watching the leads, but it’s too much fun to pick out the people behind them.
Evans is an absolute musical theatre machine. He executes the goofier numbers like “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” with spot-on comedic timing, but performs with honesty in the ballads like “I Believe.”  O’Neill produced the most laughs of the evening.  His character is incredibly loveable, even through his screw-ups and mishaps. I also really enjoyed Grey Henson as Elder McKinley, the repressed homosexual who sings about his feelings in “Turn it Off.”  Henson is an excellent tap dancer, and his one-liners were some of my favorite parts of the performance.
It isn’t difficult to determine the exact reason why “Book of Mormon” is so successful, as it’s the perfect combination of humor and intelligence.  Perhaps part of this success stems from the fact that the writers faithfully maintained the structure and rhythm of a classic musical while filling it with utter ridiculousness.  Specific musicals parodied include “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “Bye Bye Birdie.” Many of the songs will stick in your head with frightening ease.  “Book of Mormon” boasts energetic and elaborate dancing, catchy tunes, insight into the nature of faith and the American hubris.  Anyone walking through the door of the Fox Theatre will ultimately be the butt of some joke throughout the performance.
While you may be offended seeing “Book of Mormon,” it is probably because you were not paying attention. I must admit there were times where I felt a little uncomfortable. But in the end “Book of Mormon’s” main theme is that religions ultimately preach love and service underneath their superficial particulars. It promotes religion as long as people practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different beliefs.
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