Review: 'Book of Mormon' rude, blasphemous and heartwarming fun

08:34 PM, Mar 06, 2013

'The Book of Mormon' is at the Auditorium Theatre through Sunday. (JOAN MARCUS/Photo provided by RBTL)/

Written By Marcia Morphy


The only tickets available for The Book of Mormon run at the Auditorium Theatre is through a lottery for about 25 tickets immediately before most shows. The musical runs through Sunday.

Ding dong: This is a warning bell for The Book of Mormon — a rude, crude, blasphemous, offensive but entirely entertaining musical satire from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, co-creators of South Park, and Avenue Q’s Robert Lopez.

It is now playing to full capacity crowds at the Auditorium Theatre, and I had to admit, these door-to-door missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had me at their opening number, “Hello.”

Surprisingly, Mormons are not protesting (just taking ads out in the program).

Mormons believe that Joseph Smith was visited in 1829 by Angel Moroni and found golden plates that were published in the Book of Mormon in nearby Palmyra. Like the rest of the nation, local Mormons are not embracing the musical. Officials say it does not tell everything about the church and are offering to take cast and crew to the historic sites.

The musical delves into the history of the church, including its roots here, and the exodus of followers to Salt Lake City under Brigham Young, it takes a leap of faith into a subversive yet artfully crafted second coming — set in Africa.

And it makes its missionary followers lovable. “Would you like to change religions? I have a free book written by Jesus,” gleefully sings Elder Arnold Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill), an overweight, self-proclaimed follower who is sent to Uganda with his arrogantly confident companion, Elder Kevin Price (Mark Evans). Price would prefer converting souls in Orlando, Fla.

The mismatched pair meet their fellow Mormon conclave — who’ve had no success in converting the cynical and bitter-toward-God villagers who are dealing with warlords, abject poverty, hopelessness and disease. That’s about to end, because Elder Cunningham spins some elaborate Star Wars-laced yarns from the Book of Mormon to challenge some of the horrific crimes they face — including a man who thinks raping a baby will cure his AIDS.

The show is graphic at times, including a phrase that made me cringe in my seat, “I’ve got maggots in my scrotum,” that is sung at least a dozen times.

But if you can get past the shock factor, the overall production is heartwarming and enthusiastic — with a stellar cast and flamboyantly expressive dance numbers choreographed by Casey Nicholaw that emphasize songs like “Turn it Off,” “All American Prophet” and “Man Up.”

With their strong vocal pipes, Evans and O’Neill could easily perform their next gig with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But it’s their onstage chemistry that was flawless — their evolving friendship being a crucial and endearing element in a show ripe with jokes on naïve behavior, self-loathing and sexual orientation.

Equally talented is Samantha Marie Ware as Nabulungi, the young, innocent villager who becomes the first convert. With a golden voice she captures the delicate sense of poignancy and yearning as she sings “Sal Tlay Ka Siti.” She brought tears to the eyes.

Mission accomplished for The Book of Mormon — and the evangelists who help spread the word that no matter how silly any religion may sound, it’s the good it inspires in people that really counts.

I will now sing “Hello” every time I answer the door — and it will be with a huge smile on my face.