OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: High praises for Broadway in Chicago 'Book of Mormon'

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2012-12-20T15:00:00Z 2012-12-21T13:42:22Z OFFBEAT: High praises for Broadway in Chicago 'Book of Mormon'Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

The Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon" is one of those few stage productions able to make face muscles hurt from laughing and smiling so much, during this fresh and funny, unlike no-other, three hours of entertainment.

The folks at Broadway in Chicago can beam like an angel's halo with this hit that has found a welcome home in the Windy City for a run already extended through June 2013 at Bank of America Theatre.

Wednesday's opening night heralded the official unveiling of this clever and imaginative creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of "South Park" and their partnership with Robert Lopez, the man behind "Avenue Q." (All three attending Wednesday's opening.)

I've never been a huge fan of the animated series "South Park." But I have been tickled by Parker and Stone's other past ventures. Even before "South Park" began airing, this duo was already poking fun at Mormons with an under-the-radar 1997 feature film called "Orgazmo," that also spoofed everything from superheros to the porn industry and starring Parker as the squeaky clean Mormon lead character. (Stone starred in a silly supporting role.)

By Thursday afternoon, Broadway in Chicago reported the Chicago run of "The Book of Mormon" already grossed $1,493,961 for the week ending Dec. 16, with previews having only began on Dec. 11.

There are so many reasons this winner of nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is such a deserved hot ticket.

Since it was dreamed up by the minds of Parker, Stone and Lopez, it's no secret it seeks to push the envelope.

I'm not a fan of bad language in movies and stage productions. And be warned there's plenty scattered about in "The Book of Mormon."

But these creative forces have managed to mold the subject matter in such away it lends reason as to why what's said and portrayed is presented in this manner. So besides laughing at clever and fresh creative songs and scenes, there are some important lessons learned. Life in other parts of the world aren't so great and salvation isn't always so obvious.

The plot is simple: Put two fresh-from-Utah young Mormons on a mission to Africa to convert the blighted bunch of a tiny village.

We are blessed to have a powerhouse cast of talent for this run, with Nic Rouleau here direct from Broadway to reprise his role of Elder Price. His comedic timing and facial expressions are heaven sent. At his side is very funny Ben Platt, successfully putting his own spastic spin on the character of Elder Cunningham. Our own Chicago actor James Vincent Meredith is fantastic as Mafala Hatimbi, one of the colorful challenges Mormons encounter while on their mission to Uganda, and Syesha Mercado is better than the best as his daughter, the female lead who gives new meaning to "texting."

Pierce Cassedy is laugh-out-loud funny with his "tendencies" as the conflicted Elder McKinley.

And along the way, there's plenty to learn about Joseph Smith and founding of the Mormon faith. The songs are so good, they are contagious, especially the opening number "Hello," as well as "Turn it Off" and "Spooky Mormon Hell," the latter including references to Adolf Hitler, over-priced coffee and Jeffrey Dahmer.

At opening night, I spotted Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with wife Amy Rule and their middle school children. I wouldn't suggest bringing young minds who aren't able to comprehend what's unfolding. But for audiences eager for the salvation of something with entertaining impact, this is your ticket ... if you can get one...

Tickets are $45 - $115 at (800) 775-2000 or BroadwayInChicago.com or BookofMormontheMusical.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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