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THE BOOK OF MORMON at Shea’s, my third time, is still a wonder

THE BASICS:  THE BOOK OF MORMON, the touring production of the Broadway musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park”) and  Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q” and “Frozen”) presented by Shea’s and Albert Nocciolino opened for one week on April 30 and runs to May 5, this Thursday at 7:30, Friday at 8, Saturday at both 2 and 8, and Sunday at 2 and 7 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main Street. Full-service bar, a wide variety of snacks, coffee, souvenirs (1-800-745-3000). www.sheas.org Content and Language Advisories. Runtime: 2 hours 45 minutes.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Two 19-year old missionaries from “The Church of Latter-Day Saints” (Mormons) are sent on their two-year mission, in this case to Uganda, where converting the Africans is proving to be extremely challenging. In addition to poverty, starvation, genital mutilation, 80% of the population has AIDS, as they sing in one signature song “Hasa Diga Eeebowai.” So how can the Ugandans be won over? As it turns out, through good story telling, just as we are won over by this clever send up of Disney musicals. The language is at times coarse and irreverent, and a few of the topics might not be in your Sunday School curriculum, but in the end, the messages are uplifting. And it’s so funny!

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: So, what do the Mormons have to say? They have in the past taken out ads in the programs with the clever tagline “The book is always better” and one can often find missionaries outside presenting theaters, not protesting, but simply promoting their beliefs. In fact, in a conversation actor Jacques C. Smith who plays “Mafala” revealed that he can’t wait until the tour gets to Salt Lake City because he has heard from previous tours that audiences there are the most ecstatic and really “get” all the jokes.

While Lin-Manuel Miranda’s HAMILTON has certainly created hype and made Broadway “cool” again, many credit Disney musicals with keeping Broadway going through the 1990s, bringing a new generation to the theaters as musical tastes were changing (a topic, by the way, well-presented a few blocks south on Main Street at Road Less Traveled Productions’ play called THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW about the coming of DJs and techno in the 1990s). And THE BOOK OF MORMON capitalizes on, as it sends up, your favorite Disney shows.

The language is at times coarse and irreverent, and a few of the topics might not be in your Sunday School curriculum, but in the end, the messages are uplifting.

The language of THE BOOK OF MORMON and a few of the situations might not be Disney “family friendly” but everything else is, including a clear dramatic arc, big show stopping dance numbers, a well-placed blend of comic songs with heartfelt ballads, clearly developed “bad guys,” innocent young lovers and other principal characters whom you care about, right from the start. With obvious nods to THE LION KING which is also set in Africa (and mentioned on stage several times during the show), FROZEN (instead of sisters at odds it’s seemingly incompatible young men paired up as missionaries) or ALADDIN (instead of the big cave of riches number it’s a cave-like vision of the underworld in “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”). And of course, there’s the standard Disney trope of mis-understood people finally getting their day in the sun (Ariel in THE LITTLE MERMAID, Beast in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST).

The cast is first rate, the dancing is crisp, energetic, and highly entertaining, the singing is top-notch, there’s not a false note in the show.

The cast is first rate, the dancing is crisp, energetic, and highly entertaining, the singing is top-notch, there’s not a false note in the show. I went on the second night, so if there were any sound problems, they had been solved.

What can I say? Yes, they use a number of four letter words, the C-word, the F-word, the S-word but it’s all in fun, and, as mentioned, the messages are uplifting – messages of humility, bravery, self-awareness, growing up, looking at the big picture, making lemonade when life hands you lemons. If it weren’t for the language (and the sex with frogs) this would be a great kids show!

UP NEXT:  FUN HOME, the sexual coming-of-age musical, presented by MusicalFare, will be at the beautifully appointed Shea’s 710 Theatre from May 9 to the 19th. Then, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, part of this year’s Broadway Series, will be on the main stage at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, from May 14 to the 19th.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

 

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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