Review: ‘The Book of Mormon’ at the Hippodrome Theatre

Ticket holders for The Book of Mormon national tour had better be prepared to exercise a muscle that doesn’t get much of a workout these days — the one that controls the “personally offended” gag reflex.

Conner Peirson and cast of 'The Book of Mormon' at the Hippodrome Theatre. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
Conner Peirson and cast of ‘The Book of Mormon’ at the Hippodrome Theatre. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Yes, everyone’s favorite “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” is back in Baltimore with another shock to the systems of political correctness and dogmatic belief. Until April 7, those with vulnerable conditions should not consider the Hippodrome Theatre a “safe space.”

Satan himself makes a cameo in the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” number that left an opening night crowd roasted to a crisp with laughter. If you plan to follow them, might as well go with the flow and beat back the better angels of your nature until the flames die down.

In its initial run on Broadway in 2011, Book of Mormon took home nine Tony Awards including Best Musical for its trio of creators, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. Two of those names should sound familiar: Parker and Stone are the poison-pen pranksters behind TV’s South Park. The third name, Robert Lopez, belongs to the talented writer-composer of the uninhibited puppet musical, Avenue Q.

The tunes the three came up with are catchy and more than just color-form animation for the required lyrical load. The songs rush by in a torrent clever enough to wash away any stalled tourist bus of non-believers.

This national touring production remains in the capable hands of original Director-Choreographer Casey Nicholaw and writer Trey Parker. Their fluidly paced staging of scene shifts and chipper lead performances are as slick as you’ll find in any Broadway offering.

Cast of 'The Book of Mormon' at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre. Photo by Julieta Cervantes
The cast of ‘The Book of Mormon’ at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

The new ensemble cast has no weak players but a certified scene-stealing knockout in Conner Peirson as nerd extraordinaire Elder Cunningham. This loose-jointed, roly-poly dance maniac has some difficulty keeping his white shirt tucked into his belt but no trouble at all keeping an audience under his thumb.

You will not be able to keep your eyes off Peirson’s leg kicks, porpoise dives and “spazz hands” as he barely contains himself at being assigned his own “best friend” and missionary partner for a two-year stint in war-torn Uganda.

Peirson’s comic solos “I Am Here For You” and “Man Up!” gleefully garner our sympathy with their no holds, blank-check enthusiasm. The scruffy underdog appeal of Elder Cunningham in an otherwise clean-cut platoon is crucial to the well being of Book of Mormon. He is our “new normal” vaccination against such toxic viruses as female genital mutilation, AIDS, famine and warlord tyranny. Did we mention this show was a comedy?

Cunningham’s assigned partner turns out to be the most zealous and committed of the new crop of missionaries. Liam Tobin is perfect as the self-obsessed idealist Elder Price, a spit-and-polish guided missile of dead-eye certitude.

Tobin is hilarious dispensing the Latter Day gospel of Joseph Smith with an unquestioning devotion. He is also a powerhouse singer with apparently bottomless lung appetite for comic solos like “You and Me (But Mostly Me).”

The show’s sweetest singing voice, however, belongs to Kayla Pecchioni as Nabulungi, a lovable village daughter with enough spirit for two. In “Sal Tlay Ka Siti,” Pecchioni delivers her soaring anthem of hope inspired by the vision of paradise (aka Salt Lake City) peddled in the missionary brochures.

Other strong comic support comes from Jacques C. Smith as Nabulungi’s father, Mafala; Isaiah Tyrelle Boyd as the village doctor with an unprintable affliction; and Teddy Trice as the fiercely territorial warlord, General Butt-Effing Naked.

The more profane elements of the script cannot be repeated out of context. They begin with the Ugandan villagers’ cheery philosophy for dealing with the calamities visited upon them. (It is not “Hakuna Matata,” just as this is definitely not The Lion King.)

Let’s just say again that this show draws both the profane and the sacred from the same ticklish tap of musical good cheer. Is The Book of Mormon blasphemous? The verdict of most will likely be it’s too darn juvenile to be taken that seriously. But, boy, does it have a lot of fun playing devil’s advocate.

Note: For the run of this show the Hippodrome Theater is offering $25 tickets on a cash-only lottery basis. To qualify, entries must be submitted in person at the box office beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance. Limit is one entry per customer and a maximum of two tickets per winner.

Running Time: About two hours and 30 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission.

The Book of Mormon plays through April 7, 2019, at the Hippodrome Theatre at The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center — 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (800) 982-ARTS, or purchase them here.