Sunday, December 02, 2018

Holy Salacious: A Few Years Down the Road, 'The Book of Mormon' Retains Its Vulgar Charms -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Book of Mormon
Oriental Theater, Chicago
Thru December 2

It wasn't that long ago--2011 to be exact--when The Book of Mormon was the hottest show on Broadway, and seemingly among the hottest in quite some time.

I paid a pretty good aftermarket buck to see it in August 2011, though considerably less than what Hamilton in New York still regularly goes for on Stubhub, let alone what Hamilton was fetching during its first year on Broadway.

Or most face value tix for Springsteen on Broadway, for that matter.

So I don't think of Book of Mormon--famously created by the brains behind South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez--as the latest, hottest thing anymore.

But the truth is, it still seems to sell out every performance on Broadway, and remains a hot ticket on yet another National Tour that brought it to Chicago's Oriental Theater (soon to be rechristened the Nederlander).

Images not entirely of the current tour cast.
I loved it on Broadway, and then again in Chicago in 2012 and 2013--it did a 10-month "sit down" run--but though it doesn't feel like all that much time has passed, I felt like seeing it again.

So, for Thursday evening, I was able to get a bargain-priced single seat in the Orchestra section, just 10 rows from the stage.

And with the caveat that it just isn't as magnificent a musical as Hamilton, and some of the other pinnacles of the genre, it remains a brilliant delight--and quite strong in the current production, even with a standby for one of the leads.

Though I didn't precisely recall every moment, I entered rather aware of--and appreciative of, rather than squeamish about--all the ribald debauchery that would unfold.

I am not Mormon, Christian nor observantly religious, but even if I were, I'd like to think I'd feel well teased, but not inordinately offended.

Adding a bit of unease as Mormon missionaries--led by the stately Elder Price (standby Robert Colvin was really good) and the disheveled Elder Cunningham (a terrific Connor Peirson)--find themselves amid a remote Ugandan tribe with murderous warlords in their midst, was the recent story of John Allen Chau, the American Christian missionary killed in trying to illegally venture onto North Sentinel Island.

Whatever I may think of individuals of any faith going to great lengths to convert those who did not invite or encourage their entreaties, I certainly don't wish them harm--although Chau was supposedly putting the remote islanders at some risk of disease--and in its sly way, The Book of Mormon suggests that it's possible for good to come from unexpected interactions.

But though I couldn't help but onsider the choices, intentions and plight of Chau--and similarities to The Book of Mormon narrative--it did in a way help me appreciate the depth of the musical beyond its often derisive and raunchy humor.

Among other aspects, it's a rather nice coming-of-age story about the nebbishy Arthur Cunningham, who finds connection with others can come from not necessarily following a prescribed path.

At least not to a T.

And with Kayla Pecchioni completely winning as the young tribeswoman, Nabulungi, her chemistry with Peirson provided much of the joy in encountering this touring production.

The current 2-week run in Chicago has now ended, but if the tour comes to your town, know that it continues to represent the original Broadway production quite well.

With ticket stub having an EXPLICIT LANGUAGE advisory, be forewarned that nothing is sacred, with body parts, secretions, rape, mutilation and more not only mentioned but sung about with crude glee.

And it's far from just Mormonism that gets mocked. If you're devoutly religious, without a sense of self-aware humor about the truth that everyone isn't, by all means stay away.

But The Book of Mormon is far from South Park on-stage.

The Playbill doesn't include a song list so I'll be sparing, but beyond the bawdiness--the hilarity was a bit diluted by having seen TBOM three prior times, but the silliness and satire are quite inspired--there are several superb musical moments, all well delivered by the talented cast.

The standby, Colvin--in for Kevin Clay--was terrific on "I Believe," as was Pecchioni in paying homage to a major Mormon city in Utah.

Whatever luster might be off The Book of Mormon simply due to time and Hamilton, etc., the Oriental was seemingly packed for the entire Chicago run, and it was reiterated to me that the show's strengths go well beyond it being a hot-buzz hoot.

It shouldn't be the best Broadway musical you'll ever see, but The Book of Mormon well-merited its original hype, remains faithful in its production quality years down the road and--for those who don't mind a bit of dirty, sacriligious humor--it really is quite terrific.

Or so I believe.

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