by MIKE CHAIKEN
“The Book of Mormon” is a funny, sarcastic, and cheeky musical.
And its subject matter veers into the scatological‑ even as it rips open your sides from vigorous laughter.
But the show, which opened April 9 at The Palace Theater in Waterbury, as written by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone is also very smart.
“The Book of Mormon,” which follows two mismatched Mormon missionaries as they maneuver their faith through the realities of Uganda, is never mean-spirited. All of the characters are absurd in their own way. But the creators also gave all the characters a good soul with good intentions – thus, they were characters to admire.
However, the intelligence of the show can be a challenge for a cast, from the leads to the supporting players. It’s a challenge because it demands that they approach their roles with an earnestness. The actors’ performances have to avoid theatrical tells that indicate, somehow, the performers are smarter than their characters. And their characters must not devolve into caricatures that mock the universe that their roles inhabit.
Fortunately, the cast of the national road tour on April 10 were up to the challenge. They mounted a hilarious show where laughter was sparked by jokes and not a position of moral superiority.
The leads of the show Luke Monday (who was stepping in as the stand-by for Elder Price) and Jordan Matthew Brown (Elder Cunningham) did a great job of eliciting laughs. Working the classic comedy formula of the mismatched couple, the duo demonstrated the contrast between their characters right from the curtain rise. (Price was the high achiever with ambition. Cunningham was the slacker stumblebum.) But the actors made sure there was a clear appreciation of the others – enthusiastic on the part of Elder Cunningham and begrudging for Elder Price.
Both Brown and Monday did a great job of matching their performances to the evolutions of their characters. Brown exuded the growing confidence of Cunningham. We believed he was willing to “man up” as he sung in the superb song of the same name. Price learns humility (thanks to another highlight, the dance heavy “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.”)
Brown’s and Monday’s performances showed these changes and didn’t simply rely on the words of the script.
Of the supporting cast, I loved charming ingénue Nabulungi, played by Kayla Pecchioni. She is the innocent in a wicked world. And Pecchioni’s performance demonstrated the hope of the character for a better life. Pecchioni offered two of the most memorable moments of the evening with her yearning performance of “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” and her duet with Brown, “Baptize Me,” filled with youthful sexual tension.
Jacques C. Smith as Mafala also provided a strong presence on the stage as the leader of the Ugandan village. He offered a fine balance as straight man and comic relief. His scandalous “Hasa Diga Eebowai” gave the audience a hint of the point of view of the laughter to follow.
“Book of Mormon” so easily could have been a polemic on the problems with religion. Instead, it is a story that shows the problems of man and how faith might be able to effectively patch up the holes in our life.
I give “The Book of Mormon” four out of four stars.
“The Book of Mormon” continues at The Palace Theater, 100 East Main St., Waterbury Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.