Theatre Reviews
Photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy of The Fabulous Fox

There’s a line in the song “I Believe” in “Book of Mormon,” at the Fox Theatre that is buried in the barrage of “South Park”-style banter (no wonder since the music, lyrics and book are by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopes),  that refers to our Show Me State: “And I believe / That the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.”

That name check drew laughter and applause during a performance filled with nonstop mischievous merriment, including more f-bombs than have been heard in the Fox in quite some time.

The narrative centers on two missionaries (Elder Price and Elder Cunningham) from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who set out to share (impose is more like it) their religious beliefs with the residents of village in Uganda. Misery and mayhem follow with hilarious results – if your sense of humor is tickled by Parker and Stone’s satirical, dark and irreverent take on the world. As with “South Park,” this musical tackles controversial topics with bluntness, irony and shock value, using over-the-top characters and situations to critique social and political issues.

I was reminded of “Aladdin” that also played at the Fox recently. In that musical, much of its success hinges on the success of the chemistry of the double act of the Genie, as the “funny” character and Aladdin, the “straight” character. The humor arises from the imbalance of their relationship because they differ significantly in personality and conduct. Just like you need a terrific Genie for a good production of “Aladdin,” you need a well-cast Elder Cunningham for “Book of Mormon” to really sing.

This production achieves exactly this level with the impeccably cast Sam Nackman as Elder “Arnold” Cunningham, who manages to convert an entire village to Mormonism, but he does so by weaving in stories from “Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings” and other fictional works into the Book of Mormon. He makes the most of every moment of his lion’s share of stage time.

Nackman skillfully captured the essence of the bumbling yet endearing Cunningham, earning laughs with his comedic timing and expressive performances – the perfect foil for the equally well-cast Sam McLellan as Elder Price. McLellan’s polished baritone and confident, well-meaning presence delivered a fully nuanced performance as the idealistic missionary.

The rest of the ensemble was also excellent. Additional standout performances were  from Keke Nesbitt as Nabulungi, Sean Casey Flanagan as Elder McKinley, Lamont J. Whitaker as Mafala Hatimbi, Dewight Braxton Jr. as the general and Trevor Dorner, who adeptly takes on multiple roles including Price’s father, Joseph Smith and the mission president.

The production’s exceptional design team included Scott Pask (set), Ann Roth (costumes), Brian MacDevitt (lighting), Brian Ronan (sound) and Josh Marquette (hair), each contributing their expertise to craft a visually compelling experience.

“Book of Mormon” contains a mix of catchy and clever tunes with infectious melodies, witty lyrics and comedic appeal that blend satire, social commentary and engaging performances. “Hello!” kicked off the show with a lively introduction to the two main characters, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, as they prepare for their mission. Another standout was “I Believe,” a stirring solo by McLellan, highlighting Elder Price’s steadfast faith and dedication to his beliefs. “Hasa Diga Eebowai” was a bold and amusing song that portrays the cultural differences the missionaries encounter when they arrive in Uganda. “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” was an entertaining duet between Elder Cunningham and Elder Price that plays up the contrast in their personalities.

The entire show burst with an unrestrained, energetic humor that delivered the irreverence that audience had come for – no conversions necessary.

“Book of Mormon” ran at the Fabulous Fox April 9-14.

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