Encore Michigan

Book of Mormon brings “magic” to The Fisher

Review March 16, 2023 Julie Linderleaf

(ding, dong)

“Hello, My name is Sister Linderleaf. And I would like to share with you the most amazing book [well, musical]… It’s a book [musical] about America a long long time ago. It has so many awesome parts, you simply won’t believe how much this book [musical] can change your life!” 

This is not a musical for the faint of heart. Don’t get me wrong, The Book of Mormon is on of the best musicals and musical comedies of the last two decades. It is a side-busting-laugh-out-loud and jaw-dropping musical comedy. But I have never seen a live musical that uses the f-word so much or makes fun of such serious topics as diarrhea, pedophilia and forced female circumcisions. But two of the creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, also created the controversial cartoon South Park. If viewers have seen the cartoon, it’s understandable how they can push the limits of acceptability. 

The musical satirizes organized religion, specifically the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints and humorizes serious topics like AIDS/HIV, homosexuality, African Warlord oppression and female mutilation and molestation, and other catastrophes in third world countries.  All while making funny references to Disney, Lion King, Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and more.  How can a musical do all this and not upset the audiences? Audiences love this musical so much it is the highest grossing of all time. Even Mormons laugh at it.

This is the fifth time since The Book of Mormon was created less than 12 short years ago with the help of major academy award winner, Robert Lopez, that the musical joins the Broadway in Detroit season again at the Fisher Theatre currently March 14 -19.

The story follows two fresh Mormon missionaries embarking on their two-year long mission trip to spread the word of God. Elder Price played by Sam McLellan is praying to go to Orlando, but it doesn’t turn out in his favor and he is sent to Uganda, Africa paired with Elder Cunningham played by Sam Nackman, debuting in his very first national touring company. The Sams are incredible together. Their stage chemistry is obvious.

They are supposed to be joining the other missionaries already there to help baptize the local villagers into the Mormon religion, but no one wants to listen because life is just too miserable. Elder Price wants to “do something incredible” to spread the word of God, but gets too discouraged quickly and wants to leave. Villager Nabulungi played by Berlande, feels that to avoid an impending genital mutilation, she needs to convert to the religion and be able to live in paradise: Salt Lake City. However Elder Cunningham is left on his own and is not very knowledgeable in the stories of Joseph Smith. But through his imagination and lies, he twists the “boring” religious stories into outrageous stories the villagers accept as truth and find acceptable to follow.  Even stories that involve sex with frogs to cure AIDS.  

The dance numbers in this show are phenomenal. Original choreography by Casey Nicholaw  with current choreography and show direction by Jennifer Werner,  make this show a wild ride. 

My favorite dance number is probably “Turn it off.” The Sams are listening to the other Elders in Uganda explaining how to handle all the bad stuff in life. Not only do they dance an amazing tap routine, they also do it occasionally in complete darkness with a surprising costume addition in one of the “snaps” turning it off!

Remember I said that the “f” word runs rampant in this show? Not only does it have a character with the name,  It even gets its own elaborate dance number with middle finger choreography too. “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” is a phrase the villagers use to make them feel better about all the bad things that happen to them. It’s a very catchy tune that even Elder Cunningham compares it to a particular saying in The Lion King. But oh no, it is the furthest thing from meaning no worries! I couldn’t even write the entire phrase down!

The entire ensemble cast must have a well organized costume closet, due to the numerous character and costume changes they make in almost every scene. Costumes range from simple to outrageous like puppets and skeletons, a light-up Jesus, and even a strange twist on a white faced character of Joseph Smith. Costume designer Ann Roth created some extremely elaborate costumes for the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” 

Lighting designer Brian MacDevitt used some unique lighting techniques throughout the show.  In the song, “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” MacDevitt uses spinning lights and gobos to create lighting that scatters over the entire auditorium. 

Scott Pask designed multiple set pieces to twirl and spin to utilize both sides effectively.  Some village doors spin to be the outside and then the inside of missions. Possibly following the cartoonish style of the writers, the backdrops filled the stage with colorful churches and city images.     

Will the musical change your life?  It does have a resounding positive message about being nice to others and accepting everyone for who they are. Josh Gad, the original Elder Cunningham in the first Broadway production, once said in an interview that some people have converted to Mormonism. So who knows?  It is a heck of a fun show filled with sexual innuendos and catchy tunes.