The Book of Mormon, Theatre Review

The Book of Mormon, Theatre Review

Kansas City, MO – infoZine – If nothing else, The Book of Mormon reminded me how lucky I am to live in the Garden of Eden, right here in Jackson County, Missouri! Actually, there’s a whole lot more.

Trigger warning: the language is course and some dance scenes are X-rated. The musical tells the story of two 19-year-old Mormon men, Elder Price (the amazing Gabe Gibbs, from the Broadway company) and Elder Cunningham, played opening night by standby Chad Burris, who managed to steal a good deal of the show. Paired for their two-year mission, the slim, trim Price, ambitious and shallow, and Cunningham, fat and prone to lying, learn their assignment is not to France, Japan or any other cool location. They’re headed for Uganda. Price is crushed: he yearns for Orlando, Florida, with its palm trees and Mouse World. Cunningham is clueless.

Without being mean-spirited, the show pokes fun at Mormonism and, by extension, at all religions, portraying them as essentially fairy tales that can be changed to fit the context of potential believers. In the dirt-poor village of their mission, Elder Cunningham tries reading the Book of Mormon verbatim to the residents in an effort to convert them. In desperation, resorts to, shall we say, extreme embellishment, adding characters from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. The villagers buy it.

Company photo
Book of Mormon company, Photo (c)Joan Marcus, 2016

The songs illustrate Mormon history and the feelings of the characters. Elder Price sings “I Believe,” which skewers Mormon teachings such as the origin of the world and Mormonism, that Mormons “just believe.” Villagers uplift their spirits in times of adversity (which is all the time) with the lively, infectious “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” Elder Price tries to avoid joining in the pagan singing and dancing but Elder Cunningham practically goes native with his exuberant participation. Only when he learns the true meaning of the saying (Fuck you, God) does Cunningham repent.

A truly fun piece was “Spooky Mormon Hell,” Price’s nightmare of being in Orlando until demons and dead villains, including Hitler, and dancing devils tormented him. The coup de grace was Jesus himself appearing to finally put Price in his place by telling him, “You’re a dick.”

The catchy songs are combined with great dance routines. Choreographer and co-director Casey Nicholaw incorporates campy dance moves from just about every genre of musical that at first seem like clichés. (Think of all the great rock guitar riffs jammed into one rock opera.) They are so precisely and perfectly executed, though, that it’s a real treat to see. During “Baptize Me,” featuring Cunningham and Nabalungi, the village chief’s nubile daughter (the wonderful understudy, Bryce Charles), their moves were so good the audience practically cheered.

Great supporting cast members include Monica L. Patton as Mrs. Brown (from the Mormon school), Sterling Jarvis as Mafala (village chief), and Dalton Bloomquist as Elder McKinley. One of the most spectacularly outlandish characters is the warlord General Buttfuckingnaked, played by David Aron Damane, who is enjoying his role immensely.

The whole show is tied together by a crack orchestra conducted by Alan Bukowiecki, featuring searing lead guitar licks by Tim Morey. The Book of Mormon is such an energetic, fun – and funny – musical that you can almost lose the message that true peace and salvation lies within ourselves. Almost, but I don’t think you will.

The Book of Mormon
Playwright: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone
Director: Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker
At: The Music Hall
Ends: December 11


Published at Sat, 10 Dec 2016 16:23:27 +0000

Side by Side by Sondheim, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Review

Side by Side by Sondheim, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Review

Kansas City, MO – infoZine – This musical tribute to Stephen Sondheim provides a welcome respite for the serious issues in the news, on the screen – both silver and TV – and even on stage. There is no plot and there are no characters, as such. Jenny Ashman, Shanna Jones, Orville Mendoza and Oliver Thornton are themselves but inhabit the character of each of the shows 30 songs (give or take).

And another hundred people just got off of the train.

And it’s not all “comedy tonight.” Spanning Sondheim’s career from the 1950s to the 1970s, the songs portray the ups and downs and the ins and outs of relationships. Sometimes the entire cast is involved, as in the opener, “Comedy Tonight”/”Love Is in the Air,” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Other songs are solo performances, ranging from, well, comedy to tragedy, with no little amount of pathos in between.

cast photo
L-R: Daniel Doss, Jenny Ashman, Shanna Jones, Orville Mendoza, Oliver Thornton. Photo courtesy of KC Rep.

Shanna Jones’ antic persona shines in her rapid-fire singing of “Getting Married Today” (she’s emphatically not!). In a similar vein, Oliver Thornton asked us to wish him luck before launching into the intro to ”Pretty Lady,” a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” from The Pirates of Penzance. (He didn’t really need our help.)

There is some gender-bending, such as Oliver Mendoza’s simultaneously sad and funny take on the role of Phyllis, in Follies, singing “Could I Leave You?”

Thornton delivers a heartfelt “Send in the Clowns.” Beforehand, he explains that this very popular song, from A Little Night Music, is one of the most misunderstood. And he’s right. Seen in context, the meaning is clear. Whether you have seen the play or not, “Clowns” is still moving.

In “Broadway Baby,” a song about the vagaries of reaching for that star on Broadway, Jenny Ashman’s performance is at once poignant and funny. Tragicomic. At first she’s flat on the floor almost under the piano. As she stands up, she is obviously falling-down drunk. Somehow, though, as the song progresses Ashman conveys that she may also be weak from missing a few too many meals.

And another hundred people just got off of the train. With “Another Hundred People,” Ashman, via Sondheim, puts us smack in the middle of crowded New York City. We can feel the pulse, the rush, the community and loneliness. And another hundred people just got off of the train.

Jack Magaw’s lurid gold proscenium arches and deep red velour curtain hearken to an earlier time. It puts us in a much smaller space than the Rep’s Spencer Theatre that feels more like maybe the Folly or an even more intimate cabaret, maybe like Quality Hill Playhouse. Even up close, the sound could have been more, ah, forceful. This is crucial because the voices carry the show. It’s all about the words and songs. There is no orchestra or band. The musicians are pianists Anthony T. Edwards (conductor) and Daniel Doss. Their excellent playing gave the cast plenty of vocal space, and I wish the sound designer, Alex Hawthorn, had taken more advantage of that to play to the back of the house. Or maybe I played in rock and roll bands for too many years.

Songs were often accompanied by visuals from the original performances, including posters and photos. Hearing Sondheim’s music made me wish we could see those shows in their entirety. This tribute and review was a great reminder.

And another hundred people just got off of the train.

Side by Side by Sondheim
Music and lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Eric Rosen
At: Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Ends: February 18


Published at Mon, 06 Feb 2017 15:24:24 +0000