‘The Book of Mormon’ makes Pittsburgh stop to spread the message
In the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” Elder Kevin Price is a young devout missionary that believes if he prays hard enough, he will be sent to spread the Lord’s word where he’s needed most — in Orlando, Fla.
Instead, he and fellow Elder Arnold Cunningham are recruited for their first mission trip to a remote village in Uganda, East Africa, where — unlike the Magic Kingdom of Disney World — every day is not a magical day.
On their way to convert the locals to the Mormon faith, the two elders are welcomed to the village by being robbed by soldiers of a local warlord. They soon find out that the people’s problems are deeper than their religion as they struggle with serious daily issues such as famine, AIDS and oppression.
Liam Tobin plays Elder Price in the current national tour of “The Book of Mormon,” which stops in Pittsburgh for eight performances April 16-21 at Heinz Hall.
A view-changing journey
“He’s a super ambitious guy that goes through a great journey that changes his view of the world,” Tobin says of his character.
The actor from St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada was the Elder Price standby for a year in the Broadway production of the show, where he was called to perform several times before being promoted to the national tour in December.
“It’s a dream role for me to be able to be part of such a huge success,” Tobin says. “I’d seen the show in 2011 when it first came out and I am a huge fan of Matt (Stone) and Trey (Parker),” who wrote the book, music and lyrics along with Robert Lopez.
Yes, “The Book of Mormon” contains profanity and is irreverent and inappropriate at times, the actor admits, similar to some of the salty dialogue in the animated comedy, “South Park,” which Stone and Parker created.
“But they’re paired with Lopez, who wrote the lyrics (with Kristen Anderson-Lopez) to the Disney song, ‘Let It Go,’” from the G-rated animated Disney movie, “Frozen,” he adds.
Nods to classic musicals
The musical pays homage to classic musicals, Tobin says, and if audiences listen closely, they will recognize nods to different shows, including Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” Stephen Schwartz’s “Wicked” and several others.
His favorite songs include a big musical number at the end of Act I, “Man Up,” where nearly the entire cast is on stage, and “You and Me (But Mostly Me),” “when we get to see Elder Price’s opinion of himself.”
“The best part of the show is to see the audiences’ reactions wherever we go,” Tobin says. “Some get into the jokes more; some are standing and singing along at the end. It’s a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of joy.”
Tobin was last onstage in Pittsburgh in 2015, where he played lyricist and Carole King’s husband Gerry Goffin in the national tour of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
Awards and honors
“The Book of Mormon” has won nine Tony Awards – including for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Direction and Best Orchestrations – as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, five Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, and four Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Best Musical.
The original Broadway cast recording became the highest-charting Broadway cast album in more than 40 years, reaching number three on the Billboard charts.
“The Book of Mormon” productions include on Broadway, in London’s West End, in Melbourne, Australia and in Stockholm, Sweden, where a non-English version opened in 2017. A UK tour will open in Manchester, England this July.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.