‘The Book of Mormon’ uses clever twists for salty stage fun
By PHILIP POTEMPA
The PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago and a legion of fans are celebrating the return of Tony Award winning “The Book of Mormon” presented by Broadway and also playing through Aug. 14. When this “push-the-envelope” production first played Chicago in 2012, it took the town by storm as a ticket triumph. It still holds the record for the largest weekly gross in history of The PrivateBank Theatre.
The book, music and lyrics are all courtesy of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Parker and Stone are the four-time Emmy Award-winning creators of the animated series “South Park.”
I’d only seen the “Mormon” musical once before, prior to catching it last week when it returned to the Windy City. It is still as salty and tawdry as ever, and still not recommended for anyone unwilling to face foul language, sensitive subjects and adult themes served up coated in comedy. But once you strip away the shock value, underneath is a clever and creatively woven tale exploring beliefs, faith and fate.
Playing the leads for this tour are the fantastically talented Ryan Bondy as Elder Price and his counterpart Cody Jamison Strand, who is even more off-the-wall than his role predecessor as Elder Cunningham. The duo comprises the two Mormon missionary team sent to an African village, where they face the most unspeakable of obstacles while pursuing their church outreach duties.
The show producers, especially Parker, have always been very involved and “hands on” with the process, including taking plenty of notes during all the rehearsals for the “sit-down run” of “Mormon” at this same theater space in December 2012 when it launched.
As for the questions Parker, Stone and Lopez are asked the most about the show? They’ve said in the past at press interviews I’ve attended, it never varies: “How did you come up with the idea for “The Book of Mormon?”
And their response is a dialogue of answers that makes the entire “light bulb” moment sound very “by chance” as the three explain it:
Trey Parker: “Matt and I went to see “Avenue Q” when it opened in 2003, and we were like, ‘Wow, this is actually really good.’ When it was over I was thinking, ‘This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve always dreamed about doing.'”
Matt Stone: “During intermission, we saw that we were thanked in the Playbill. ‘Well,’ we thought, ‘that’s weird.'”
Bobby Lopez: “That’s because I saw the ‘South Park’ movie when it opened in 1999, and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is exactly what I want to be doing.’ A week after that, the idea came to me for ‘Avenue Q.’ ”
Trey Parker: “It happened purely by coincidence that Bobby showed up that night, he introduced himself and we went across the street for a drink.”
Matt Stone: “Bobby is younger than Trey and me, so he looked at us like elder statesmen and asked what he should do next. We asked what he wanted to do, and he said, ‘I want to write something about Joseph Smith and the Mormons.’ ”
Bobby Lopez: When I said Joseph Smith, they were like, ‘We’ve wanted to do that, too!’ They had it in their heads to do some kind of Joseph Smith musical, but never did. I said, ‘If you guys want to do that, that’s fine, because I’d really love to see what you do, more than what I would do.'”
Trey Parker: “It just became ridiculously obvious that we should team up and do something about Mormons. So we said, ‘No, let’s do it together.'”
Just the set design showcased for this latest romp in the Windy City, as created by Scott Pask, with the costume design by Ann Roth, lighting design by Brian MacDevitt and sound design by Brian Ronan result in enough entertaining reasons to be sold on this show.
Add to these elements the talented cast paired with songs like “I Believe,” “Hello” and “Turn It Off,” which stay with the brain long after you leave the theater, and the final outcome is something Broadway and audiences have never encountered before.
Tickets are $45 to $120 at (800) 775-2000 or www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Philip Potempa is a 25-year veteran journalist and published. He can be reached at email@example.com.