Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 17, 2019

Review: The Bushnell, The Book of Mormon

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through October 20, 2019
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Irreverent, hilarious, and sophomoric, “The Book of Mormon” has become a cult classic. With book, music, and lyrics written by Matt Stone, Robert Lopez, and Trey Parker, the show won the 2011 Tony for Best Musical on Broadway and since 2012, has spawned touring companies all over the world. The company presently performing at the Bushnell is an energetic, fully committed group of 34 actors who obviously revel in presenting this over-the-top show with tunes you might be appalled to learn, linger in your head for days.

There is not a weak performer on stage, but magic happens between Liam Tobin (Elder Price) and Jordan Mathew Brown (Elder Cunningham), two devout Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to convert the natives to what they passionately believe is the true religion. These two charismatic actors work brilliantly together. Once in Africa, they find poverty, a sadistic war lord, and a group of jaded villagers who have been the target of do-gooders for years, with no appreciable improvement in their lives. The Mormons are ill prepared for the horror of life in Uganda, and thus, the set up for whether redemption may or may not take place that fuels the through-line of the story. Elder Cunningham, an inveterate liar, becomes an unexpected hero when he converts Nebulungi (a stunning Alyah Chanelle Scott) to Mormonism, having found a way of expressing the idea of the Church of Latter Day Saints without ever reading or understanding many of the core beliefs.

Audiences should realize that this type of show—especially with authors who are known for their irreverent and non-politically correct animated television show, “South Park,” will contain possibly offensive language and situations. Indeed, at least two audience members left during Act I, but the comedy comes from satirizing religion and youthful passion for doing what you’ve learned is the “right thing.”

What makes the show a real winner is the music. When Tobin sings “I Believe,” he is so convincing that the audience can’t help but better understand a young man’s zeal for making a difference in the world. When Brown sings “I Am Here For You,” his compassion for his new friend shines through. Big production numbers are plentiful but two standouts are “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” (with guest appearances by Lucifer, Hitler, Genghis Khan, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Darth Vader), and “I Am Africa” (Mormon and Villager ensembles) in which true compassion for humanity triumphs over cultural materialism and religious fervor.

The production was appropriately summed up by one of the audience members who said, “It’s just so good to feel free to laugh this much.” That’s a tribute to a great show that understands its mission.