Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review of The Book of Mormon at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood


I got to see The Book of Mormon yesterday at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, and was really looking forward to it as it was the hottest show on the season schedule. It has won numerous Tony awards (and a Grammy for the soundtrack), and I have gotten plenty of e-mails from the season ticket office telling me that no exchanges were available due to high demand. The New York Post (the ne plus ultra of print journalism) actually put it on the same level as The King and I and The Sound of Music. Those are some big shoes to fill.

This comedic musical is the brain-child of Trey Parker and Matt Stone of Southpark fame, and they were joined by Robert Lopez, who knows a thing or two about putting together a musical. The one now playing at the Pantages is the first North American tour of the production, and they did a nice job of putting it together.

First off, the Pantages is a wonderful facility and a really neat place to see a show. Our seats were located in the orchestra at stage left, and though they were near the edge we did not miss any of the action on the stage. The sets were not extensive but were creatively moved and repurposed and did not distract from the show.

The orchestra was very good, but then again they are professionals and they play this show every day, so I would expect nothing less from them. I counted nine members and it really is amazing how composers can write music for such a small ensemble and get the same results as they used to from a full orchestra. The music itself was appropriate to the action on the stage and worked well with the story—it was appropriate for Broadway. The choreography was good and there were some truly amazing performances by the actors

The lead performers did a great job. Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner played the roles of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, the Felix and Oscar roles (remember The Odd Couple?). Samantha Marie Ware was outstanding as Nabulungi and has a lovely voice, and Grey Henson stole the show as the ambiguously gay Elder McKinley.

But, despite all of this great stuff that The Book of Mormon had going for it, seeing the show was a terrible disappointment, and it was certainly not in the same league as The King and I or the Sound of Music. There are a plenty of reasons for this.

For starters, the story was told through song (as it should be – it is a musical, after all) but unfortunately the majority of the numbers were done by a chorus, and the complicated lyrics combined with poor audio quality to make much of it unintelligible. By poor audio quality I mean that often times the orchestra volume was much louder than the vocals, and the vocals were not mixed evenly. It was a muddy mess, which is a huge strike one in my book.

The story was, quite frankly, dull. I love musical theatre, but this one was overloaded with songs and not enough dialogue. The characters were not even close to developed, and I found I did not care what happened to any of them. In fact, at times I found my mind wandering, which is rare for me as I am usually fully engaged when I am at the theatre. Strike two.

And the comedy was lame. There was no set-up to any of their gags, and it was always straight to a punch line that was always crude enough to shock and awe, but never clever. It was akin to watching a cheesy sit-com , albeit one where they joke about AIDS and raping babies, along with plenty of f-bombs added for juvenile kicks and giggles. Strike three.

The Book of Mormon was not worth my time or money, and I was astounded by the audience response which included thunderous guffaws and even a standing ovation. The popularity of this musical is a conundrum, and perhaps psychology students can study it and come up with some sort of theory about the media’s influence on the masses and the effects of crowd behavior.

One last thing: kudos to the Mormon Church for taking out three pages of ads in the Playbill. I expected them to protest this musical, not chuckle and say “Now that you have seen the musical, read the book.” Too funny…


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