Beau Salant ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Ever since it opened on Broadway back in 2011, The Book of Mormon, the irreverent musical about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by Robert Lopez (of Avenue Q and Frozen fame) and Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park fame), has been entertaining, shocking and ultimately moving audiences all over the world.
The show’s national tour has come to Boston once again, and it remains in fine form.
Boasting the energetic, tongue-in-cheek score filled with both original creations and homages to other beloved musicals that musical theater fans have come to love, this production wears its heart on its sleeve. Directors Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, both of whom staged the Broadway production as well, have rejuvenated their musical in this production with a much more evident emotional core than the Broadway production suggests.
On Broadway, the show’s heart came from Nikki M. James, who won the Tony Award for her portrayal of Nabulungi, the young, bright-eyed African girl who is the first one to trust the Mormon missionaries that come to her town. In this neck of the woods, the role is taken on by Candace Quarrels, who works just as hard as James did in the role and produce equally fine results. Her Nabulungi is slightly more feisty, but just as hearty.
But the additional heart, one not seen in New York City, comes from Cody Jamison Strand as the goofball Elder Cunningham, the Mormon missionary with little actual knowledge of the Mormon religion and even less confidence and self-esteem. As the natural underdog, the character is designed for us to root for him, but Strand works to give the role depth regardless, despite the precedent created by other actors in the role (Josh Gad, who created the role on Broadway, simply showed off his excellent comedic skills rather than finding anything deeper in the character). As a result, Strand delivers a performance that is equally as hilarious as it is moving.
A uniformly excellent cast rounds out this production. David Larsen as Elder Price, the ultra-devoted and charismatic Mormon missionary with an inane obsession with the town of Orlando, has quite large shoes to fill in a role previously taken on by Broadway behemoths such as Andrew Rannells and Gavin Creel. He is in fine voice in the vocally challenging role and hits the script’s comedic beats with professionality and great poise. Daxton Bloomquist is a riot as Elder McKinley, the veteran Mormon missionary trapped deep in the closet.
Nicholaw’s choreography, an exact replica of his work on Broadway, remains subtle but lively and incredibly consistent. Particularly his work on “Joseph Smith American Moses” should be commended; the show within a show is staged inventively and without a misstep despite the show’s limited set and space for such a number. It is a testament to Nicholaw’s status as the current reigning king of musical theater (he currently has three shows – all of them hits – running on Broadway, with a fourth set to open this Spring).
But the star of The Book of Mormon is The Book of Mormon. The score is so gleefully good and the script is so well-structured and genuinely funny that the strength of the physical production and cast is only the icing on the cake. While certain facets of the show are unrealistic (could a bunch of Mormon missionaries seriously mislead so many people with no punishment or consequence?), it does not falter because The Book of Mormon exists in its own world and plays by its own rules. You are in a state of euphoria as you watch it because this world just seems so wonderful (even if the events taking place on stage are horrid). That’s why The Book of Mormon is something special, and will continue to be special for generations to come.