Syesha Mercado as Nabulungi and Ben Platt as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon.
After months and months (and months!) of hype, the powerhouse Broadway show The Book of Mormon finally made its Chicago debut. The premiere guest list read as a who’s who of Chicago celebs—and lucky for us, a few Chicago staffers were able to attend. Here, editor-in-chief Beth Fenner and culture editor Emmet Sullivan relive the superb and sub-par moments of the musical.
Beth: Hi there.
Emmet: So it’s the day after the big moment in Chicago theatre: The Book of Mormon premiere. What did you think?
Beth: Lots of bold-faced names in the audience. Rahm and Amy. Chris Kennedy and his wife.
Emmet: Matt and Trey too!
Beth: Exactly—it was nice to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the South Park creators who cooked up this kazillion-Tony-winning musical.
Emmet: I was sitting only a few seats over from Rahm. He was guffawing, especially at some of the lewder songs like “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” Which makes sense.
Beth: As I had seen it in New York with the original cast last year, I was very curious to see how, if at all, this performance would differ.
Emmet: I actually didn’t get a chance to see it in New York. How did it differ?
Beth: Probably the biggest difference to me was—how do I put this—this performance gayed things up considerably. The play focuses on a group of eager young male Mormon
missionaries who go to Uganda to baptize the natives. The song-and-dance numbers in Chicago were played much more broadly for laughs. I’m not sure how I felt about that. You?
Emmet: Well, I noticed the flamboyance in the show, for sure. I didn’t know whether that was baked in to all performances though.
Beth: Maybe they figure that’s what Chicago audiences want. In any case, the show is still excellent. If you like South Park, this is exactly your cup of tea. What did you think of the individual performances?
Emmet: I really enjoyed the two male leads, Nic Rouleau as star missionary Elder Price and Ben Platt as bumbling sidekick Elder Cunningham. Platt landed a lot of great lines, and Rouleau was a lot of fun to watch. I was less impressed with our Nabulungi, the Mormon-friendly Ugandan played by American Idol’s Syesha Mercado. I don’t know if you’ve been following some of the drama behind that part, but Mercado was a recent addition to Mormon, and it shows. She can sing, of course, but can’t compete with Platt’s comedic timing. What did you think? Especially after seeing the original trio.
Beth: They were both excellent. Platt had a very tough act to follow. The actor who originated the role, Josh Gad, is about to star in NBC’s 1600 Penn. In the current production, the actor takes Elder Cunningham in a different direction. Rather than a Gad-esque bumbling slob, he seems like a bumbling autism-spectrum teenager. Which made me feel a little sad for him, at first. (Though he ultimately triumphs. This is, after all, a feel-good show. Despite all the talk about maggots in scrotums.) As for Mercado, I thought her voice was amazing. Her acting was a little rough, but I’m hopeful she’ll polish that up with time.
Emmet: I’m glad you brought up the maggots in scrotums by the way. Everyone knows the show is not PC—this is a Stone/Parker production after all. But if you don’t let your kids watch South Park, don’t bring them to this.
Beth: Absolutely not. But otherwise, it’s a terrific choice. A big thumb up from me.
Emmet: Me too. I’m hoping to line up tickets to see it again before it wraps up in June—if it does wrap up in June, that is. It could make a lot more money if it was extended after that.
Beth: And someone making lots of money in theatre? That’s the happiest ending of all.
Photograph: Joan Marcus