A night on the (hysterical) town with Book of Mormon at Straz Center, Tampa

Due to my relationship with Tampa Bay Bloggers, I was gifted two tickets by The Straz Center for the  Performing Arts to attend The Book of Mormon on media night in exchange for writing about the musical. All opinions are my own.
Although my blog usually focuses on entertaining and tablescaping, I also visit many local upscale restaurants, food and wine festivals and other entertainment venues. This is my second trip to The Straz as a blogger, and I hope you will enjoy travelling along.

 

The Book of Mormon came back to Tampa at The Straz Center for the  Performing Arts and I was so happy to be able to attend.

 

During its six-year run, the musical has won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical.  I had heard about this musical for many years, and assumed it was “just another musical” that people loved to see to make a night on the town.
I had heard it was controversial because it makes fun of the Mormon Church, and I would imagine, religion.
A bit of background on the musical
It wasn’t until I started looking at photos and reviews of the musical leading up to the performance that I saw – hmm, this one is different, and people who see it really seemed “hooked” by some of the funnier, albeit very strange, lines. I’d never seen  men’s underwear being sold at the theater merchandise kiosk before.
The new missionaries.
The creators of South Park were the writers and madmen behind this musical. I wanted to find out why they chose the Mormon religion to write about. It turns out that they grew up in Colorado, with close proximity to Utah, so Mormons were a big part of their culture and society. (Sort of like Scientologists having headquarters in the city I live in?)
They defend themselves (see this ABC News article) by saying they are not necessarily making fun of Mormons, but for the “cheesy” wholesome quality they bring with their starched white short sleeve shirts, ever-present black ties and their willingness to ring the doorbell of virtually any stranger any time, anywhere, including other countries, such as Uganda.
Making fun of Mormons is like making fun of Disney World or other institutions.
Warning: Prudes please do not apply 
There is a warning in the playbill and other materials including the actual ticket of “explicit language” but there are also adult premises that I would not want to expose to anyone under 18, as the musical takes a look at very real and serious issues  in Uganda, including murder, warlords, AIDS  and female genital mutilation.
And let’s just say, I would not recommend this to people who are offended easily by cursing or looking at religion.
But for the rest of the world, you will want to see this play immediately.
Why I fell in love
At its heart, this is the story of friendship and right and wrong.
It’s about two young men who have been paired together, like roommates or war buddies and in this case, missionaries to another country.
One, sadly has never had many friends, and has been known as an elaborator of stories.

The other, hell- bent on succeeding, as told in the very funny song “You and Me (But Mostly Me.)”

Although very different from the classic tale, the story line reminded me of the Wicked plot: Two unlikely opposites put together against their will as young adults;  One teaching the other something they thought was impossible; Sweet sad songs; Defiant songs of delight and fortitude and perserverence.
It’s hard to not root for the two, as well as the Ugandan village facing insurmountable odds.
We are taken from Salt Lake City, to Uganda, where life includes daily strife and even death.
The two missionaries are treated to an African send off at the Salt Lake City airport.
Elder Cunningham trying to explain The Book of Mormon to the towns people.
The new missionaries meet  several missionaries who have been stationed in the village for three months and have not been able to convert one person to Mormonism. That gives the opportunity for some great song and dance, led by Elder McKinley, the very talented PJ Adzima, including “Turn It Off.”
After several rousing and well-done numbers by the townspeople  and more insight into their predicament,  we assume that successful Elder Price will be able to do the job, but it is Arnold who rises to the occasion.
It’s here Elder Cunningham  asks “What would Jesus do?” And begins the rousing – and hysterically choreographed – “Man Up.”
Elder Cunningham decides to do what no one believes he can do. He finds the strength, albeit he fudges the truth a little.
I was surprised I was shocked at a few things – but to go into it would give it away.
The music was lively and it’s easy to see why this musical has played 200 times in  six years.
As a Floridian, it was extra funny that the successful elder’s dream of success was to be stationed in Orlando.
It’s easy to love the bumbling Elder Cunningham (Arnold)  but even to love Elder Price,  although it becomes  clear that his perfect persona  has some serious flaws as well.
One of those is the guilt he keeps with him from stealing a glazed donut at age 6, which launches into a hell scene that changes the scenery  dramatically. We’ve all probably had this vision, and this nightmare.  Although somewhat scary,  it is raucously funny to see some of hell’s characters. You can guess who might be there but I’m not going to give it away.
Special treat was Jesus, who made a couple of appearances in the show, and had  one of the best lines of the show.
And suddenly we realize that the innocent Nabulungi rises to her greatness singing Sal Tlay Ka Siti – Salt  Lake City.
Nabulungi played by Kayla Pecchioni. Suddenly you realize she’s not just the darling of the village but an amazing talent with an incredible voice.
“Baptize You” sung by Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) and Nabulungi (Kayla Pecchioni)
“Baptize You”  is hysterical. And then Kayla Pecchioni  reprises with the sad and strong  Salt Lake City.  By then you realize  just how talented this whole cast is.
At times, I wondered how this Ugandan village could get out from this horrible repression, murder and mutilation.
However, as the conclusion shows how they reconcile,  audience members can’t keep track of how many times they’ve laughed.
Just when we think we’re going to have to leave these lovable missionaries and the Ugandan villagers, there is  a chance for the audience to join in the celebration.
I  have to admit I did not want the show to end and had a lump in my throat when we had to leave. Through all the dancing and singing, I had really bonded with these characters. As I think did the whole audience. A testimony to the talent of the whole cast.
Book of Mormon runs through Dec. 10 at  Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa.
(813) 229-7827. Tickets are $33.75 and up.
 

 

The characters and actors of Tampa