‘Book of Mormon’ entertains as it offends
BOSTON — Squeaky clean, impeccably groomed, the members of the missionary army that is the young men of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints — aka the Mormons — use their faith-fueled zeal to try and find candidates for conversion all over the world.
It’s not easy under the best of circumstances to ring a doorbell and try to convince a skeptical resident of New York City. Now try it to a small village in northern Uganda, under the thumb of a murderous warlord, and it gets a whole lot tougher.
The Mormons as a group are low-hanging fruit for satire anyway, what with prohibitions against alcohol, tea and coffee — caffeine is allowed in soda — and what many would call quirky theology.
So when the politically incorrect Robert Lopez, the co-creator of the hit musical “Avenue Q,” teamed up with the even more politically incorrect Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of “South Park,” to create “The Book of Mormon,” suffice it to say that no one or nothing was safe.
Think “Avenue Q” on steroids. At some point, AIDS, female genital mutilation, child molestation and sex with turtles are all topics handled in typical “South Park” fashion, that is to say not gently.
The national touring company of the hit musical “The Book of Mormon,” which burst onto the scene in 2011 with nine Tony Awards and rapidly became a cultural icon, is at the Opera House in Boston through April 28.
There is something to offend everybody, especially those folks who despite all the hype and publicity don’t know exactly what they’re in for.
Having said that, there is no doubt you’ll laugh and no doubt you’ll be entertained because the basic elements of a successful Broadway musical are all here — spectacular choreography by Casey Nickolaw, who co-directed with Parker, and a funny, at times touching book and a bright, sassy, equally funny score by Lopez, Parker and Stone.
They both borrow from and lampoon traditional Broadway musicals.
It‘s all performed by a excellent ensemble cast, completely buying into what the authors are selling.
Mark Evans is Elder Price, who bristles with enthusiasm for his mission, eventually tempered somewhat by his assignment to Uganda — he was hoping for Orlando — and his pairing with the klutzy, truth-bending Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O‘Neill, making his professional debut).
Elder Price has no doubt he will do great things ( “You And Me (But Mostly Me)” despite being paired with Elder Cunningham.
Things get off on the wrong foot immediately in Uganda, thanks to thugs employed by a vicious warlord, named The General (Derrick Williams) in the program but whose full title is General Butt F**king Naked, a belly laugh to be sure, one of many that “South Park” fans will be expecting and will find.
The villagers, led by Mafala Hatimbi (Kevin Mambo) and his daughter Nabulungi (the winsome Samantha Marie Ware) quake in fear of The General.
The Mormon missionaries already assigned to the area have a .000 batting average in converting the villagers, despite the best efforts of Elder McKinley (Grey Henson), so Elder Cunningham — who has never actually read the Book of Mormon — cheerfully “adapts” the text to appeal to the villagers, and hits a home run, much to the dismay of Elder Price, whose failure to win converts shakes his faith.
Eventually, the villagers — using the “theology” taught by Cunningham — stage
a 10-minute play for visiting Mormon officials, a play that must be seen to be believed.
Lopez, whose score was one of the best things about “Avenue Q,” no doubt helped inspire such musical numbers as “Two by Two,” featuring dancing missionaries, the soaring anthem “I Believe,” sung by Elder Price, the hilarious tribute to repressed emotions “Turn it Off,” “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” complete with dancing cups of Starbucks, or the sexually charged “Baptize Me” with Elder Cunningham paired with Nabulungi.
Before you go, you might benefit from listening to the score to catch all the bon mots the writers have stored in the lyrics.
Believe it or not, there are even some touching moments, and at times a grudging admiration for the missionaries’ faith, their zeal and determination to spread the word in the face of almost constant rejection.
The Mormon Church has apparently decided to go with the flow when it comes to “The Book of Mormon.” The church purchased several pages worth of ads in the Playbill, and was handing out actual free copies of the Book of Mormon in front of the Opera House Wednesday night. Hey, if you can’t beat them, try to piggyback on the publicity.
Just as the Broadway musical evolved to darker themes with productions such as “Sweeney Todd,” the irreverent, bawdy humor of Mel Brooks and “The Producers” has paved the way for “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon.”
As many have noted, the show has helped broaden the audience for the Broadway musical, to the point where Broadway in Boston is holding daily lotteries at the Opera House for special low-priced tickets to the production. Hey, Eric Cartman fans, what have you got to lose?
The national touring production of “The Book of Mormon.” Book, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Directed by Casey Nickolaw and Parker. Choreography by Nickolaw. At the Opera House, 539 Washington St.., Boston. Tickets: Ticketmaster or BroadwayinBoston.com.