'The Book of Mormon': Still Unapologetic and Flashy in its 2023 Tour
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, Sept. 23, 2023
Unapologetically irrelevant with a flagrant disregard for the sanctity of religion, The Book of Mormon, in its 2023 tour through San Diego, is as it always has been: a naughty musical comedy that leaves audiences begging for more.
With book, music, and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon follows a duo of Latter-Day Saints missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, who are sent to Uganda to spread the word of their faith. They soon find that their personalities aren't the most comfortable fit and the locals aren't quite as willing to acquiesce to conversion... not if they play by the books, that is.
The touring production, under the direction of Jennifer Werner, has undergone a few updates from previous tours, but the story is more or less unchanged. For those who are unfamiliar, it is a book that really leans into the extraordinary premises of modern religion, hitting the ground running with the cheeky tune "Hello!" which features each of the elders rehearsing the script that they will use while on their missions.
Elder Price (Sam McLellan), portrayed in this run as more of the "cool kid" than in previous versions, still carries the characteristic of being a square rule follower, just one who has more effortless street clout with his peers. This is illustrated in particular when his fellow missionaries are fawning over him in "Two by Two" as well as in "All American Prophet," shown via the offhandedness with which McLellan delivers lines like, "okay... well, anyway." McLellan's confident delivery of "You and Me (But Mostly Me)" shows the aura with which he carries this expectation of greatness for his character, and was an early highlight.
Elder Price's mission companion, Elder Cunningham (Sam Nackman) is played more faithfully to the original interpretation; in Nackman's hands, Cunningham is over-the-top, entirely too close (proximity-wise) for comfort, and very loud. His character, clearly off-putting to Elder Price, finds its strongest moments when Cunningham hits his stride in the imagination department later in the production, and shines in the duet "Baptize Me."
Perhaps the most engaging standout in this production is Keke Nesbitt, who plays Nabalungi. Her soaring "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" and "Joseph Smith American Moses," alongside the large ensemble, are highlights in the show, and her naivete and lack of artifice are refreshing in a show about the manipulations of a church.
The production cast (featuring many members who double as understudies and swings) includes Vance Klassen, Sean Casey Flanagan, Trevor Dorner, Gideon Chickos, Trinity Posey, DeVon Buchanan, Justin Forward, Thomas Ed Purvis, Lamont J. Whitaker, Jarret Martin, Dewight Braxton Jr., Jarius Miguel Cliett, Matthew Dant, Craig Franke, Kars Hafell, Kisakye, Evan Lennon, Joey Myers, Michelle Ray, and Chelsea M. Smith, as well as swings Bernie Baldassaro, Dylan Bivings, Matt Cosco, TIanna Davis, Eliah B. Johnson, Connor Olney, and Reynel Reynaldo. Their moves in ensemble dance numbers are outstanding and their dense Tabernacle-esque chords are well sung, though there were a handful of missed notes in second act solo sections.
The Book of Mormon is in town til Sunday before it continues to Texas for its next stop in the tour.