‘The Book of Mormon’ knocks on Syracuse’s door with Broadway laughs and sound

Denee' Benton and Cody Jamison Strand bond over baptism in  "The Book of Mormon."

Denee’ Benton and Cody Jamison Strand bond over baptism in “The Book of Mormon.” (Photo courtesy of NAC Entertainment)

Some topics are ripe for the picking. They sit on the shelf of our society ready for any amateur yuckster to poke at playfully, for stand-up guys and girls to jab at with certain enthusiasm, for monologue writers to roll over disdainfully with the toe of their shoe.

Did you hear the one about the elder who …

Certainly the world at large has had its way with the faith that started just down the road from where I live here in upstate New York, when one Joseph Smith dug up a gold plate in his backyard and …

All of that origin is covered quite thoroughly in “The Book of Mormon,” the musical from the quite fertile minds of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone that’s in the middle of a five-night run at the Landmark Theatre in downtown Syracuse, bringing the Broadway touches to the gloriously beautiful theater built in 1928 by architect Robert Lamb and restored and renovated in bursts that were greatly accelerated this decade.

“The Book of Mormon at The Landmark Theatre in Syracuse
• Show times: Today at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 25 at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 26 at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
• Tickets: $32 to $125, plus any service fees. Call 315-475-7979 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.

And it’s done tongue firmly in cheek. As the lights are lowered and the translucent curtain is raised following a meeting between Jesus and other important early decision makers in what’s become the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we meet a group of ambitious young men practicing ringing doorbells, elders all with their last names tacked on. They’re training to take on the world of turning people on to the book they believe in so passionate, door by door.

For David Larsen as Elder Price and Cody Jamison Strand as Elder Cunningham, it's Uganda, you betcha. (Photo courtesy of NAC Entertainment)

For David Larsen as Elder Price and Cody Jamison Strand as Elder Cunningham, it’s Uganda, you betcha. (Photo courtesy of NAC Entertainment)

The big crowd laughs at the premise, everybody’s shared nightmare from the inside, right, somebody trying to sell you on their burning flame while you stand on your own threshold gauging when, how much and the manner of delivery for the metaphorical ice water you’re about to deliver on the rehearsed speech. Skibbiddy-abbiddy, Ignatz.

This musical coming from the creators of “South Park,” the humor is far deeper, ribald, scatological, sexual and cutting than that old Krazy Kat cartoon-line that sits in my brain as meaning get-the-hell-outta-here that I can’t find anywhere on Google. But I digress.

There’s some of that going on in this plot built for humor. Without giving too much away for those who wish to see it still in Syracuse or in other stops around the country — and you should, oh, how you should, unless you’re the type that cannot stand for anybody to poke fun at somebody’s religious beliefs in any way, shape or form — what we have here are a group of young men sent to Uganda to educate a third world village to the ways of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the pilgrimage from Palymyra, N.Y., to Salt Lake City, Utah.

The topics that are broached, with big, wide, sweeping takes of humor, are AIDS, female body mutilation, infant rape, tribal murder, famine, sexual orientation … I know. Wow, right? And that’s in addition to the young, ignorant, preachers of religion. And yet it’s funny. And sweet at times, too.

And Good God, no matter if you believe or the manner in which you worship if you do, can this cast sing.

My favorites were Cody Jamison Strand as Elder Cunningham, a roundish misfit lad, the sort of kid always picked last in choosing sides for anything, and Denee Benton as Nabalungi, the earnest and attractive daughter of the tribe leader who falls for his outlandish words of hope. The actors play well off their beauty-and-the-geek appearances and chemistry, as well as their story lines’ convergence of a lifelong reliance on tall tales on one hand and lifeline’s necessity of big dreams on the other.

David Larsen as Elder Price, part hero and part villain, has seesaw moments of angelic and devilish delight and despair, too.

The whole ensemble cast, those playing the Africans welcoming the Mormon council’s special visit, especially, dance and sing worthy of a big party and major awards, too.

Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw and director Parker ought to be proud of how this traveling show has captured the spirit of the nine Tony-winning Broadway production. The moves and sound are big and bold and over-the-top, matching the story perfectly.

Review ticket plus one for my dear wife Karen were provided by show promoter NAC Entertainment.

Do you consider the topic of religion too sensitive for a comedy under any circumstances, and if so, why? Do you consider topics such as AIDS, women’s body mutilation, infant rape, tribal murder, famine and sexual orientation too sensitive for a musical comedy, and if so, why? Would you go to see ‘The Book of Mormon,’ and can you explain why or why not?

29 thoughts on “‘The Book of Mormon’ knocks on Syracuse’s door with Broadway laughs and sound

  1. I would go see this. And the points of comedy….I’ve often learned a serious lesson, or finally understood something complex because of a comedic take on it. Comedy can be a great teaching/learning tool.


  2. i really enjoyed the show, even though some of the older audience members seemed a bit taken aback by some of the humor. if we can’t make fun of taboos, what can make fun of? humor is a great way to address sensitive issues that may not be able to be brought easily in other areas – it is meant to make you uncomfortable.


  3. That’s not a show you can recommend to just anyone. It’s brilliantly written but deeply vulgar. My prim mother-in-law wouldn’t make it past “hasa diga eebowai.” They pull off a nifty trick. All of the humor is based in Mormonism beliefs, but you never laugh at the Mormons. They don’t make them look like fools. The authors are mystified by Mormon beliefs but never look down on them.


    • But they do make the young Mormons look foolish at times, Mark.

      And yes, it is very vulgar. Interesting to me was that the average age of the folks at the show I attended was years older than I, and I’m nearing 60, yet everyone was ready and eager for the subject matter.


  4. Not sure. I used to watch South Park religiously (no pun intended) in the the 90s, but then it got too crazy for me. I felt bad when I saw the movie, and poor Gene Siskel and Princess Di were in hell. I get that it’s comedy, and I do like it when they touch topics usually off-limits, and God knows I need a laugh. I’ve heard it’s pretty funny and I like anti-PC stuff. But is body mutilation laughable? I guess that’s the best way to deal with atrocious topics, with humor.


  5. I would love the opportunity to see this!

    I think as a form of the arts, nothing is off topic in any genre. It’s whether or not I pay to see it or not that matters.


  6. I would have to be in the mood for this one, but I have seen comedies on multiple subjects and would ‘try’ almost anything, but if it meant paying very much money, I probably wouldn’t like this, saving money for other movies or plays… but you never know!


    • For a Tony-winning Broadway musical, I thought the lowest-priced tickets were moderate at $30 or so, Robin, but I get what you are saying, certainly. That would buy three movies, at least.


  7. It played here, too, but didn’t manage to see it. Am sure I would have loved. As a Christian, I try to reflect that as best as I can in how I live my life. But two beliefs I hold firmly that may or may not be shared by others who are religious: 1) Jesus/God loves a sinner and 2) they have a great sense of humor. (Though I know there are big differences between Christian and Jewish beliefs, am talking “religion” in general even if just for convenience.) The humor in the musical seems the “go big or go home” type and I that’s a very good thing. One fault of interpreting Christianity or religion in general is to take things too seriously (see #2 above) and Book of Mormon seems a good antidote!


    • Me, too, Liz, in the faith and how to represent it by actions. And the thought that i’s OK to laugh and think why. Thank you for the Minnesota viewpoint, and sorry you didn’t get to see the show up there.


    • There were straggling protesters outside the theater when my dear wife Karen and I entered amid a big crowd, and then a small group of earnest young people at the main exit attempting to hand out their version of the good book as we left amid a big crowd, Barbara. Thanks for your take from Virginia. I hope you get the chance to see it down there.


  8. Personally I don’t have any problem with religious subjects being the fodder for a musical. I have a great deal of faith in God but am a bit wary of religions – seeing as they are a man made construct to ‘approach” God. That which is man-made can’t help but to be riddled with paradoxes and inappropriate logic – all good material for humor. I actually enjoy talking to Mormons and other religious visitors as I love a good debate and am sufficiently informed to argue their basic premises and conclusions – quite aggressively. I recall one summer morning many years ago when I was driving tractor-trailer on night shift. I was shirtless and having a beer before bed when the knock came at the door around 10 am. Two cheery faced young men identiied themselves as Mormons and asked if they could speak with me. I invited them in and offered a beer (which they refused) and we discussed for about an hour – which would have been longer but they seemed in a rush to get away. Ha! I had them so confused by the time they left that I think they were seriously doubting their conditioning. I went to bed happy, knowing that i had done my bit to help some programmed young men see a more real world.

    The show sounds delightful Mark. It would be something that I would enjoy seeing. Actually it would be right up my alley. Thanks so much for the review and the pictures – looks like fun.


  9. I haven’t seen this show but have heard songs from it on the radio – very, very funny. I imagine that not all songs would be suitable to be played on a Sunday morning?
    When i see couples that are smartly dressed approaching my front door the chances are they are Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons and i have to say that my heart sinks. What to say? No thank you. But I still feel bad.
    I saw a fresh faced innocent twenty something Mormon on the Tube months ago and he looked like he would be eaten alive in this city. I worried about him all day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The musical takes those feelings that you have, Rachel, and twists them and turns them and makes sure you’ll never feel quite the same about the situation again without a good, hard think about their big satire. Thanks for joining in about the London scene!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I found myself laughing at points and shaking my head in disbelief that I was laughing…I enjoyed the show a lot – as soon as I recognized that everything considered appropriate was off the table. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s very well put, Mimi. I laughed, and realized I had crash through the wall of incedulity about the taboos that stomped all over without being ability to protest intellectually. Thanks for pitching in here, my friend.


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