Dallas — It’s positively a new era for Dallas Summer Musicals with The Book of Mormon’s Music Hall at Fair Park debut. The nine-time Tony Award-winning, highly irreverent musical brings its laughs, shocks, and cheer for two short runs in North Texas. After a spending a week in January at Bass Hall, the production takes a quick stop at Fair Park before skipping off to its next destination.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone teamed up with Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez (also composer for Frozen and other Disney favorites) for the book, music, and lyrics which culminated in a highly popular and profitable show. Casey Nicholaw (Something Rotten, Aladdin) choreographs and co-directs with Parker, and Stephen Oremus provides musical direction and orchestrations. Andrew Graham conducts the touring orchestra, which delivers a loud rock-concert mood for many of the songs.
The story opens with a brief overview of the events in the Mormon church’s religious text, which segues into the introduction of the organization’s most recognizable facet: it’s young, male missionaries. As they finish their training, they’re paired off and given global assignments. Elder Price (Robert Colvin on Wednesday night), the handsome rising star of the group, unexpectedly gets partnered with the awkward, socially-inept Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) for two years in Uganda.
Culture shock hits them like a ton of bricks as they encounter the various issues facing the villagers, while attempting to convert them to the church. Cunningham finds some success with an unconventional method of evangelism, and the missionaries must reconcile their upbringing and training with the realities of their mission field.
The show has received colossal hype in the eight years since its Broadway debut, and much of it is well-deserved. Musical numbers deliver catchy, pleasing rhythms and melodies, clever lyrics, and phenomenal choreography. Extremes in characters, situations, and worldviews provide the basis for most of the comedy and create moments for witty dialogue and exaggerated line delivery.
Colvin and Peirson are an absolute joy to watch, and they display an impressive level of consistency and commitment. Colvin rocks the house with his powerful vocals, varied facial expressions, and comedic timing. Peirson finds quite a range of emotions, breaking out of the stereotyped oddball persona.
Kayla Pecchioni provides the sweet, heartfelt moments that give some depth beyond the comedy, and her strong pipes and infectious smile light up the Hall. A phenomenal, impeccable ensemble keeps the energy high throughout, with well-rehearsed staging and punctuated singing. Unison vocals at times get a little loud which muffles the words, but it doesn’t dull the effect.
Nicholaw’s choreography blends a variety of dance styles with the vigorous cheer of The Brady Bunch and Donny Osmond (all of whom are referenced somehow). An exceptional tap sequence and rock-style jazz number are a couple of the highlights. Everything is meant to be over-the-top, but the production sets up the caricatured world from its opening cartoonish depiction, so it doesn’t feel overdone.
It’s that campy, distorted reality that allows the most shocking material to seem a tad less offensive. Many references still pack an outrageous punch, regardless of the delivery, but they still leave the audience laughing, albeit with jaws dropped. Even though the show blatantly pokes fun at the theology and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it no less challenges the moral sensibilities of most human beings in our culture.
It prides itself on its appalling content, which is why it never saw the Music Hall until now. Former DSM president Michael Jenkins made quite clear his refusal to bring in musicals with adult material. Judging from the reactions of the immediate surrounding patrons, they didn’t share the same sentiment. More than likely, those that would react negatively to the show knew to stay home. The audience seemed a bit younger overall, although children and adolescents were noticeably absent, for good reason. Parents are advised to use extreme discretion.
Does the show overall live up to its main marketing quote, “The best musical of the century?” Not quite. Much like the exaggerated nature of the musical, the claim shouldn’t be take too seriously. But, it’s still the hottest ticket in town, judging from the traffic and the packed Hall. Running at two-and-a-half hours with intermission, the evening goes by rather quickly with non-stop fun.