‘The Book of Mormon’ at The Kennedy Center

Two years ago I saw the touring production of The Book of Mormon at The Kennedy Center and was utterly blown away. I wrote a column at the time about the profound content of The Book of Mormon, because of its brilliant depiction of the role of human imagination and metaphor in religious language and practice. I found this megahit musical comedy by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone to be “one of theater history’s most significant contributions to global understanding and world peace.” With missionary zeal, I’ve been exhorting everyone since to see the show.

'The Book of Mormon Tour.' Photo by Joan Marcus.
‘The Book of Mormon Tour.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Last night I returned to The Book of Mormon—which given my reverence for the musical had a shrine thing going on. A touring company with an all-new cast is “back by popular demand” until August 16th. And I can rapturously report that the show I saw last night is just as good as—maybe better than—the one that blew me away in 2013.

The comic character who most embodies the musical’s revelatory riff on faith is a young Mormon man named Elder Cunningham. He gets paired with another young Mormon man, Elder Price, and deployed on a missionary junket to Uganda. As scripted, Cunningham is the chubby Mutt to Price’s lanky Jeff, the schlubby Costello to Price’s strapping Abbott.

The role of Elder Cunningham is a plum one for someone plump, and Cody Jamison Strand owns it. With an infectiously giddy laugh, a knack for physical buffoonery and nimble dance moves, genius comic timing, and a voice that ranges hilariously from squealing falsetto to faux-macho basso, Strand is an absolute knockout. Expect him to be the next Nathan Lane, the next Bert Lahr, the next Zero Mostel. Strand—who played the part previously on Broadway (right out of the University of South Dakota)—is a major reason for anyone contemplating seeing this road show to book tickets pronto.

David Larsen, who plays Cunningham’s companion Price, also brings it. The two have stunningly gorgeous voices, whether harmonizing  (as on the lovely duet “I Am Here for You”) or belting out solos (Larsen on “I Believe,” Strand on “Man Up”).

A third lead, Candace Quarrels, plays Nabulungi, a young woman whom Cunningham and Price befriend in Uganda. Quarrels simply soars on her solo ode to Salt Lake City, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti,” and the duet that she and Strand sing after coyly having their first coitus, “Baptize Me,” nearly stopped the show.

There is not a nano-instant in this production that hints of long-run-hit fatigue. The choreography and singing by the entire company—the Mormon entourage and the Ugandans alike—is as sharp, polished, and quicksilver fresh as can be. The insanely creative contributions of Directors Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, Choreographer Nicholaw, and Music Supervisor Stephen Oremus are evident in every delightful detail. And the original lighting by Brian MacDevitt, costumes by Ann Roth, and scenic design by Scott Pask seem brand-sparkling new.

Monica L. Patton, David Larsen, and Cody Jamison Strand. Photo by Joan Marcus 2014.
Monica L. Patton, David Larsen, and Cody Jamison Strand. Photo by Joan Marcus 2014.

There’s no better time to take in this modern masterwork of musical comedy. By some rare theatrical alchemy this ridiculously heretical entertainment appeals to people who are devout and people who are not, to people who adore big Broadway musicals and people who’ve never been to one in their life.

The Book of Mormon is a hit show you have to see to believe.

Running Time: Two hours 25 minutes, including one intermission.

The Book of Mormon plays through August 16, 2015  at  The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg. Member, American Theatre Critics Association.


  1. I would agree that the 2013 show was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, BUT WHY ON EARTH DOES IT NEED TO BE SO LOUD. SO LOUD YOU CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE WORDS, which are many and brilliant. Must amplification ruin so many contemporary shows. I will go again with my grown kids, but will bring earplugs for all of us.

    • Dear Suzanne Yuskiw — I agree with you 100% The sound at tonight’s (June 21, 2015 7:30PM performance) and I believe that if the actors and singers cannot project their voices, they do not belong on the stage. At several points in the first act it sounded like we were listening to a recording played-back through cheap loudspeakers — are these performers actually singing??
      I will never attend a musical theater performance again.


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