On Stage: The Book of Mormon returns to Philly

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Book of Mormon

In March 2011, “The Book of Mormon” made its debut at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. During its first year, the show was consistently one of the top five best-selling shows on Broadway and it set 22 new weekly sales records at the O’Neill.

The show, which was seven years in the making, met with immediate critical acclaim and won numerous theater awards including nine Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

After a long wait, the hit musical is made its Philadelphia debut in 2014 at the Forrest Theatre. The hit musical returned to the Forrest in 2015 for another sold-out run.

Now, “The Book of Mormon” is coming back to Philly again for a run at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333,www.kimmelcenter.org) from May 28-June 9 as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia series.

When “The Book of Mormon” opened on Broadway, a review in the New York Times called it “the best musical of this century” while the Associate Press said “‘The Book of Mormon’ manages to offend, provoke laughter, trigger eye-rolling, satirize conventions and warm hearts, all at the same time.”

By all accounts, it is one of the funniest shows to hit the stage in years.

The talent-laden tour cast features Liam Tobin as Elder Price, Kayla Pecchioni as Nabulungi, Andy Huntington Jones as Elder McKinley and Jacques C. Smith as Mafala Hatimbi.

“I’ve been with ‘The Book of Mormon’ for a year-and-a-half,” said Pecchioni, during a recent phone interview. “This tour has been out for eight years. It never really stopped since it came out. It’s never even had a long break.”

“The Book of Mormon” features book, lyrics, and music by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. Parker and Stone were the creators of the animated comedy “South Park.” The musical comedy tells the story of two young, inexperienced Mormon missionaries who are sent to Africa. It is set in a remote village in northern Uganda.

In the village, which is about two hours north of Uganda’s capitol Kampala, a brutal warlord is threatening the local population. The primary antagonist is the superstitious General, who does not like the missionaries and views them as a threat.

The show has a wonderful message of community and demonstrates how religion is formed through storytelling. The narrative is linear — and it’s educational. It is a very well-constructed musical – written very well. It’s a religious satire but people aren’t offended by it. Nothing is off-limits. Like “South Park,” it’s equal opportunity offensive.

Pecchioni grew up in a family of lawyers, surgeons, professors, and therapists. Finding her niche in the arts, she attended high school at The Youth Performing Arts School in Louisville, Kentucky, majoring in Dance with a Musical Theatre minor. She then received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theatre from Northern Kentucky University.

“I saw the ‘The Book of Mormon’ tour in Cincinnati when I was in college,” said Pecchioni. “I was a little shocked by it. It’s a new world of theater that not many people have seen.

“We’ve seen all kinds of reaction on this tour. By the end, everyone is up on their feet. We hear from people how much it has changed their lives.

“You’re playing a stereotype with Africa and the general but it’s not that far from reality. They wrote the story out of pure truth. It’s not just outrageous ridicule.”

The primary antagonist is the General. He has superstitions. The General considers the missionaries as threats to his domination. Nabulungi becomes the missionaries’ ally and even agrees to be baptized in the faith.

 “I love that Nabulungi is so feisty,” said Pecchioni, who was performing with the Rockettes prior to joining this tour. “That’s how I approach her. She has a tenacity like no-one else in the village. She is driven. Nabulungi and I are alike in that we are both very positive – even in hard times. I am an anchor.

“For me, the most challenging part playing her is letting go. I walk upright and prim. I had to learn to let go.”

This show is controversial. It has people talking about it. It pokes fun at the Mormon faith. But there hasn’t been a negative response. In some cities, there are Mormon missionaries outside the theater answering questions about their religion and inviting people to tours of their temple.

Pecchioni offered her take on why audiences love this show so much.,

“It’s the surprise of where it leads you once you get to the end,” said Pecchioni. “Audiences really connect when they learn that we’re not here to make fun of Mormons.”

Video link for “The Book of Mormon” — https://youtu.be/yIFLMF_jdZI.

“The Book of Mormon” is running from May 28-June 9 at the Academy of Music. Ticket prices range from $29-$169.

“The Book of Mormon” isn’t the only stage show in the area that has people laughing non-stop.

The Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is presenting “Lend Me A Tenor” now through June 23 and loud laughter rattles the rafters at every performance.

“Lend Me a Tenor” was first presented at the American Stage Festival, Milford, New Hampshire on August 1, 1985. It was directed by Larry Carpenter. The play was subsequently presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber for The Really Useful Company at the Globe Theatre, London on March 6, 1986. It was directed by David Gilmore

The play was first presented in New York City on March 2, 1989 at the Royale Theater by Martin Starger and The Really Useful Theater Company, directed by Jerry Zaks.

“Lend Me a Tenor” is a comedy by Ken Ludwig. It received nine Tony Award nominations and won for Best Actor (Philip Bosco) and Best Director (Jerry Zaks). A Broadway revival opened in 2010. The show has been translated into 16 languages and produced in 25 countries. The title is a pun on “Lend me a tenner” (i.e., a ten-dollar bill).

Winner of four Drama Desk Awards in addition to the Tony Awards, “Lend Me A Tenor” is set in September 1934. Saunders, the general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, is primed to welcome world-famous singer Tito Merelli, known as Il Stupendo, the greatest tenor of his generation, to appear for one night only as the star of the opera.

Tito arrives late, and through a hilarious series of mishaps, he is given a double dose of tranquilizers and passes out. His pulse is so low that Saunders and his assistant Max believe he’s dead. In a frantic attempt to salvage the evening, Saunders persuades Max to get into Merelli’s costume and fool the audience into thinking he is Il Stupendo.

Max succeeds and lives up to his idol, but Merelli regains consciousness and gets into the identical costume, ready to perform. Now two opera singers are running around in the same costume and two women are running around in lingerie, each thinking she is with Il Stupendo.

A sensation on Broadway and in London’s West End, this madcap, screwball comedy is guaranteed to leave audiences teary-eyed with laughter.

The Candlelight’s cast features Jared Calhoun (Max), Paul McElwee (Tito Merelli), David T. Wills (Henry Saunders), Anthony Connell

(Bellhop), Hallie Hargus (Maggie), Julia Kershetsky (Diana), Rebecca Schall (Maria Merelli), and Gerri Weagraff (Julia Leverett). The production’s director is Bob Kelly.

“This is my first involvement with this show,” said Calhoun, during a phone interview Saturday from his Philadelphia home. “I had never seen it and didn’t know much about it.

“I previously did ‘Brigadoon’ last fall and ‘She Loves Me’ last winter at the Candlelight. I’ve worked with Bob before. He was my director for ‘Brigadoon.’ I like the atmosphere of the Candlelight.

“Bob had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with this show. He is very good when it comes to comedy and the timing of it. He knew where the laugh lines would be. We all learned about comedic timing from him on this show.”

Comedic timing is crucial with “Lend Me A Tenor.” Set in a hotel suite with a door to the bedroom, a door in the bedroom to a bathroom and outside doors in both the suite area and the bedroom, the play features doors opening and closing with different characters coming and going – at breakneck speed.

“Without a doubt, this is the most challenging show I’ve done because of the timing,” said Calhoun, a native of Frederick, Maryland who graduated from Liberty University with a theater degree.

“I thought that because it’s a play instead of a musical, that it would be easier – but I was wrong. We’re running around the stage all the time. It takes an amazing amount of energy.

“Now, I think we have the show down to a well-oiled machine. We’re not worried about getting hit by a door.”

Another popular element of this production is the ending. After what seems like the end, the cast takes the stage and does a full recap of the show in just a few minutes with all the scenes flying by at faster-miles-per-hour.

“With the recap ending, we made it a point,” said Calhoun. “At every rehearsal, we started off miming the recap. As it turns out, the recap has been an ‘audience favorite’ moment.

“Audiences love this play because it’s a really funny show with a lot of physical comedy. I laughed a lot when I first read the script. I think it’s a testament to Ken Ludwig and his writing. It all comes together well.”

“Lend Me A Tenor” is running now through June 23 at the Candlelight Theatre. Tickets, which include a full buffet meal and free parking, are $63 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

Another show this week will come from the opposite end of the spectrum – a music concert by an artist whose most recent work has been informed by a near death experience

Frank Iero

On May 29, Frank Iero and The Future Violents will headline a show at The Foundry at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150,www.thefillmorephilly.com). He is touring in support of his new album, “Barriers,” which will be released on May 31 via UNFD.

His previous album was “Parachutes,” which was released at the end of October in 2016 and featured Frank Iero and The Patience.

Two weeks before the album was released, Iero was injured in a motor vehicle accident in Sydney, Australia.

On October 13, 2016, a passenger bus hit Iero when he and his band were unloading their van for a show. Iero was dragged about 10 feet along the curb by the bus until his publicist moved the van. He credits “an enormous rucksack” for saving his life that day.

According to Iero, “It broke that impact. I don’t even know what would’ve happened. It’s incredible to me that we’re all still alive. No one that witnessed the accident thought that we would be.”

Frank Iero and The Patience cancelled all of their upcoming touring for a number of months as all of the members recovered. 

“When I was making ‘Barriers,” I knew that there were topics I needed to address after the accident – things I needed to talk about,” said Iero, during a phone interview last week.

“I really do feel it changed me as a person. I came really close to dying and that was a really hard obstacle for me to attack. I stared to chip away at the accident and the feelings around it. ‘Barriers’ is about knocking down those walls.”

Frank Iero and The Future Violents and Frank Iero and The Patience are just two of Iero’s musical incarnations over the years. In addition to his solo work, Iero has been a key member of Leathermouth, Pency Prep, Death Spells, and My Chemical Romance.

On his website, Iero offered the following self-introduction – “hi, you might not know me but my name is frank iero, and i have recently come to the realization that you can not kill me. many have tried, and at times have bled me well. but here i am…limping yet still standing. new jersey’s rock and roll cockroach. i have learned a great deal in my 34 years and 361days of living… and i am proud to say i am still learning.”

Iero is a New Jersey boy to his core.

“I grew up in South Jersey – in Lawrence Township,” said Iero, during a phone interview last week from his home in North Jersey. “I grew up in Belleville. My wife’s family lives near West Milford, so we moved up to that area.”

There must be something in the water in Belleville that turns people into talented musicians.

The long list of notable musicians from Belleville includes Four Seasons’ singers Frankie Valli, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe (and their friend/actor Joe Pesci); Connie Francis; Tommy DeVito; Dennis Diken (Smithereens); My Chemical Romance; Junior Sanchez; Peggy Santiglia Davidson (The Angels); and The Delicates.

Iero joined My Chemical Romance in 2002 and remained with the group until it disbanded in 2013.

“My Chemical Romance’s Gerard and Mikey Way grew up in Belleville, but we never met until 2001,” said Iero. “They were on the same label I was – Eyeball Records – and we became friends. When they decided they wanted toad another guitar, they asked me. Prior to 2002, I spent a couple years in a band called Pencey Prep, which was also on Eyeball Records.”

Now, his band is Frank Iero and The Future Violents — Evan Nestor, Matt Armstrong (ex-Murder by Death), Tucker Rule (Thursday) and Kayleigh Goldsworthy (Golds,Dave Hause, The Mermaid).

“Writing the songs for ‘Barriers’ was cathartic,” said Iero. “That’s what music means to me. These songs were my therapy sessions. With the accident came three realizations — it could have been worse…I’ve met death and seen how brutal it can be…what if I didn’t make it? I specifically wrote this record knowing where I’m going.

“We made the album with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio. We recorded 17 songs in 15 days and 14 made it to the record. This is my first double album. I really wanted to work with Steve. He’s really smart with the way he captures the band.

“Working with Steve, it’s just him in the studio – no other hands on deck. I wanted to record it live to two-inch tape and that studio has a lot of great analog gear. When you know you have a time crunch and a great guy like Steve, it makes you work harder.”

Iero pulled the band together just prior to heading in the studio.

“Tucker and Evan are in the New York/New Jersey area,” said Iero. “Matt lives in Indiana and Kayleigh lives in Philadelphia. We started making the record last year.

“We’d get together for a week-and-a-half to write together. We had three writing sessions – May, July and September. Then we did the recording in October. We finished mastering it at the end of November and now it’s coming out on May 31.”

Video link for Frank Iero and The Future Violents — https://youtu.be/r_om80wltaM.

The show at The Foundry on May 29, which has Reggie and The Full Effect as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.50.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment