The Book of Mormon says “Hello!” to New Haven

Angela Tricarico, Staff Writer

Since opening on Broadway in 2011, The Book of Mormon has played over 2,700 performances on the Great White Way. A production in London opened in 2013, and two national tours have launched; one wrapped up in 2016 and the other is still booking through October 2018. The popularity of the show has not died down in the 6 years since it played its world-premiere performance. The tour keeps returning to cities it has already played and the Broadway show still sells tickets for standing room only every night, indicating the show is sold out.

The Book of Mormon returned to the Shubert Theater in downtown New Haven this week through October 1, for an 8-show national tour stop. Previously, the tour played the Shubert in 2015.

The musical, written by Robert Lopez, Trey Parker and Matt Stone is crude and blasphemous in both the spoken dialogue and song lyrics, but audiences don’t seem to bat an eyelash at it, however problematic it may be – they’re too busy laughing. The crudeness is to be expected by anyone familiar with South Park, as Parker and Stone are co-creators of the animated television hit. Lopez, best known for the Disney smash movie Frozen, is no stranger to this area of offensive comedy, as he co-wrote Avenue Q.

The actual Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints advertises in programs for The Book of Mormon, despite the musical being a parody of the religion.

The Book of Mormon follows two Mormon mission companions who experience major culture shock when placed in Uganda for their mission. There’s Elder Price, played by former Broadway standby Gabe Gibbs, who has a very Type-A personality and an obsession with doing something miraculous and incredible, and Elder Cunningham, played by Conner Pierson, who is very rooted in pop culture and tends to lie or make things up. Their job: convert the Ugandan citizens to Mormonism. It turns out that’s a lot harder than it seems.

I was lucky enough to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway in 2016, so going into the Shubert Theater, I knew exactly what to expect regarding the lyrics, spoken lines and the choreography. I wasn’t sure that a show with as much offensive language as this has would still hold up in a changing climate of increased political correctness. I wondered if certain jokes would continue to land and stay funny, but the jokes landed and the audiences was laughing out loud the entire show. Part of the humor comes from Casey Nicholaw’s witty choreography.

On top of being a hilarious, well-written and well-composed musical, The Book of Mormon has extremely developed characters, Elder Price and Cunningham; plus Nabalungi, the daughter of a Ugandan townsperson, who was played by Kim Exum, fresh from the Broadway company. Each of them go through a distinct journey through the two and a half hours in which the show runs, and each reaches a different conclusion. For me, the journey Elder Price goes on is so interesting to watch, because it’s all in the choices the actor makes, and Gibbs made some interesting ones. He played Elder Price as so genuinely patronizing, as he should be, which made his growth and realization that much more fun to watch.

The Book of Mormon probably won’t stop being funny any time soon. The scene with Elder Price’s “hell dream” – a very real thing Mormons experience – shouldn’t be funny, with Hilter actually depicted on stage, alongside Genghis Khan, Jeffrey Dahmer and Johnny Cochran. In the scene, Elder Price is having a dream that he went to hell for breaking a very highly regarded rule, and all of those historical figures also occupy hell with him. At a time when theater is used so widely for escapism, musical comedy heals.