No one should think that national companies of Broadway shows are watered down, on-the-cheap, productions. This was proved by the great production of THE BOOK OF MORMON at the Forrest and other musicals played at the Academy this past season. BOOK has a cast of 36 and a traveling production staff of 30 and an orchestra of 18. You can see why it won those many Tony’s four years ago: the acting, costumes, sets, choreography, and orchestra are all very good. The songs, mostly by Robert Lopez (Frozen) were mostly tuneful. A few were powerful, but none could be taken out of the context of the show.
Every ticket had on it “Parental Advisory: Explicit Language”, but I did not find the obscenities to be too offensive. The show also did a good job of presenting the Mormon faith and all its oddities; those who are not familiar with that religion might think it was ridiculous and funny: John Smith, Brigham Young, the Angel Maroni, the lost golden tablets and Jesus himself are presented in a not-too-disrespectful way. Though ridiculous, one might admire the Mormons for really believing and practicing their religion and their completely honest behavior. There is a positive conclusion of the show favoring the Mormons. There were critical messages in the play denouncing AIDS, female mutilation, child rape, rampant warlords that are the real problems of Uganda.
I have directed 21 non-professional Broadway musicals, and I found that an all-male number with a fast dancing chorus always took down the house. Well, this show had at least ten of these delightful fast-dancing, all-male numbers. A lot of the material in the show was derivative: the male lead (like How to Succeed) African numbers (like The Lion King) the Africans put on a little show (like King and I) fast chorus dancing (like Hairspray). But it had the best depiction of hell I have ever seen in a great production number.
THE BOOK OF MORMON at the Forrest is a very expensive production, justifying the base price of $103. It will travel to hundreds of venues and possibly overseas. MORMON won’t go into the list of great Broadway musicals, but it is worth seeing. [Forrest Theatre ] July 29–September 14, 2014; forrest-theatre.com.