We Love Arts: The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon First National Tour Company / credit: Joan Marcus

The Book of Mormon First National Tour Company / credit: Joan Marcus

When DC ticket sales opened last winter for The Book of Mormon‘s first national tour, it crashed The Kennedy Center’s servers. Then it happened again; soon after, the whole run sold out.

For over two years, the 9-Tony-winning NYC production has maintained over 100% capacity on Broadway – unheard of in today’s climate. Tickets for the Broadway show still fly past $400. Oh, and locally? Certain sketchy websites are pricing orchestra seats at around $500, or about the cost of a movie ticket every week for a year.

It’s been called the musical of the century and the funniest of all time. Now it’s here and finally time to ask: does The Book of Mormon live up to the hype?

To the dismay of many ticket-less theatergoers, yes, it does.

The Book of Mormon is of course as crass as you would expect from its South Park and Avenue Q team of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. It shocks and horrifies to the iconoclast’s delight. But shock value alone doesn’t sell at $500 a ticket. The Book of Mormon is the whole package, with every facet working together to build something entirely fresh and new.

The book, on which all three writers collaborated, moves with near effortless whimsy and charm. Energy never lags and the story’s framework pays off at the finale. Though comedy gets the credit, a sincere and complex emotional underpinning always propels the characters forward.

The show’s humor incorporates all available theatrical elements with finesse. Lighting cues turn an otherwise lively but typical tap scene into a frenetic delight. Costumes escalate an otherwise simple song about lying into an imaginative sci-fi dreamworld. Choreography makes a profane joke (or three or four or fifty) so much more profane.

Phyre Hawkins, Mark Evans, Christopher John O'Neill - The Book of Mormon First National Tour - Joan Marcus, 2013

Phyre Hawkins, Mark Evans, Christopher John O’Neill – The Book of Mormon First National Tour / credit: Joan Marcus

Mark Evans and Samantha Marie Ware highlight an outstanding cast. As Elder Price, Evans personifies the wide-eyed, charismatic energy needed to make you empathize with him instantly. As the potential convert Nabulungi, Ware exudes curiosity and hopefulness that gives her very desperate world a measure of innocence.

In perhaps the most difficult role to cast, Christopher John O’Neill makes his professional debut as Elder Arnold Cunningham. While the role’s originator Josh Gad left difficult shoes to fill, O’Neill aptly handles Arnold’s vast emotional peaks and valleys, all while hamming up the necessary pelvic thrusts of Casey Nicholaw’s choreography.

As for the chorus: How divine! The elders, led by a stellar Grey Henson as Elder McKinley, have surely earned their own planet.

Would I pay $500 on a sketchy website for one orchestra seat to The Book of Mormon? No. But I would certainly try getting a standing-room-only ticket or scoping out a cancellation. The Kennedy Center says it’s possible – and Thursday’s show left me willing to believe anything.

The Book of Mormon performs through August 18, 2013 at the Opera House at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Kennedy Center is located at 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566. Closest Metro stop: Foggy Bottom/GWU (Orange/Blue line). For more information call  202-467-4600.

Joanna moved to DC in 2010 knowing she’d love it, and as usual she was right. As an associate producer at No Rules Theatre Company and playwright on her own time, she stops and stares at musicals, comedy, and musical comedy. She enjoys eating fried things, drinking scotch and smoking cigars, and makes up for the damage done by snacking on organic oats and barley and walking long distances to wherever with her dog Henry. Joanna lives with her husband in Arlington. Follow her on Twitter or contact her at joanna(at)welovedc.com.

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