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Review: Who’s at the door? A top-notch ‘Book of Mormon’ is back in town

THEATER REVIEW

‘The Book of Mormon” is as crisp, funny, tuneful and outrageous as when I first saw it in (gulp) 2011 with the original cast on Broadway. (Yes, Elder Cunningham has been canonizing Ewoks now for more than eight years.) The show isn’t very shocking anymore, at least to me, but that’s a given when you’ve been baptized a few times.

Still, at the most profane and sacrilegious moments in Thursday’s national tour performance in Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre — when the Ugandan villagers give God the middle finger in sumptuous eight-part harmony, for example — I didn’t sense that audience members around me were bristling with quite the same level of giddiness/surprise/indignation as when the tour first played here in 2015.

Some thoughts on the show:

The sound. When it comes to singing Mormons come a knockin’ in Fresno, the sound in the Saroyan is a big deal, and not for a good reason. The 2015 tour is in the Fresno Sound Hall of Shame. People still talk to me today how muffled and incomprehensible the lyrics were in at least several of the performances. (I had one woman tell me that she left at intermission because she couldn’t understand a word.) The good news, I think, is that the sound is much better the second time around, at least from Row K in the orchestra. However, I pretty much have every lyric memorized, and that does make a difference. I’m curious what others think. How was the sound from your “Mormon” seat?

The “Lion King” thing. Talk about perfect timing: After the “Mormon” run, the next Broadway in Fresno production takes us to the savannah. Every “Lion King” reference in “The Book of Mormon” — and there are a lot of them, starting with the surprise airport appearance of a “Lion King” dancer for the departing missionaries, had a special oomph. Will Simba get the same Saroyan dressing room as Elder Price?

The offensive parts. For years it’s been oh-so-sophisticated to celebrate the equal-opportunity offensiveness of the show, but I wonder if it’s time to register a dissent. The most uncomfortable I got in this third viewing was in my reaction to the Africa stereotypes, from the horrible AIDS jokes and silly jungle jargon to the idea that Nabulungi (a fine Kayla Pecchioni) would try to use a manual typewriter to send text messages. Then I started thinking: Why am I fine with all the Mormon and religion jokes, but the Africa stuff starts to ruffle my feathers? I might need a yurt and a few dozen hours of meditation to figure this one out.

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Conner Peirson is a standout Elder Cunningham. His exuberant dancing is technically impressive and so boisterous that you can’t help but laugh. All the performers in this Equity production are very good — and Kevin Clay as Elder Price belts out a winner “I Believe” — but Peirson is the actor I’ll remember.


Related story: Hello! With ‘The Book of Mormon,’ Mr. Smith (and friends) comes to Fresno

The details. When you see a show for a third time, it can be great fun to notice the little things. Here’s my list of favorites:

• The tiny McDonald’s, complete with golden arches, depicted in the painted drop of Salt Lake City.

• The hand choreography in “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” It’s so graceful that once I fixed on it, I could barely notice anything else.

• Genghis Khan playing a flute at the end of “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.”

• The dysentery ribbons in “Joseph Smith American Moses.” Yes, I’ve laughed at them before. But I never noticed they’re color coded brown and red. Gross. And brilliant.


Show info

“The Book of Mormon,” through Sunday, Oct. 7. Tickets are $39-$129.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

Comments (2)

  • Dawn Diestelkamp

    Donald, I wish I could agree with you about The Book of Mormon, but I can’t. None of the sacrilegious dialogue not the profanity bother me. However, this lyric ruined it for me:
    Mattumbo:
    Ahh, this it bullshit!
    The story I’VE been told is that the way to cure AIDS is by sleeping with a virgin!
    I’m gonna go and rape a baby!

    There was nothing that could redeem that image. It was unnecessary and offensive, making Book one of my least favorite musicals.

    reply

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