Winner of nine Tony awards, adored by many, offensive to some, “The Book of Mormon” (the musical) is currently showing at The Paramount for an all-too-brief two weeks. Performances are already sold out, with the exception of a limited ticket lottery that takes place 2 1/2 hours prior to each show.
With book, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez (co-creator and co–composer of “Avenue Q”) and Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the animated comedy “South Park,” the musical’s pedigree attracts a broad range of audience members, not all of whom are musical comedy aficionados.
“The Book of Mormon” (“TBOM”) lives up to its popularity: It is a laugh-out-loud lampoon of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and the actual Book of Mormon. In the spirit of “South Park,” “TBOM” features a preponderance of four-lettered words and potty humor that some may find offensive beyond the politically incorrect, religious satire. Pragmatically, the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) has chosen not to take offense; instead, it has taken out an advertisement in the play bill (“You’ve seen the play, now read the book.”)
But “TBOM” is essentially sweet-natured at heart. It tells the tale of two naïve, young Mormon missionaries who arrive in a remote village in Uganda, eager to spread the LDS gospel. But the Ugandan villagers have larger concerns than religion: war, famine, AIDS, forced female circumcision, a threatening warlord. Even as it satirizes the Mormon religion, “TBOM” offers the thesis that religion is essentially metaphorical in nature and that, in spite of the silly packaging, belief can result in true good for humanity.
A taste of Broadway
The touring production features a talented, young cast of excellent singers and Broadway-quality hoofers. Mark Evans — as promising, handsome, self-centered Elder Price — has both looks and singing chops. Christopher John O’Neill’s goofy sweetness suits the role of the mythomaniacal Elder Cunningham. Other standouts are sweet-voiced Samantha Marie Ware as village beauty Nabalungi and light-footed Grey Henson as the sexually ambivalent Elder McKinley.
In addition to satirizing religion, many of the song-and-dance numbers poke fun at other Broadway shows. For example, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” presents a profane version of “The Lion King”’s “Hakuna Matuta.” Similarly, the villagers’ performance of their interpretation of the Book of Mormon (“Joseph Smith American Moses”) is reminiscent of the Siamese court’s (mis-) interpretation of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in “The King and I.”
The large chorus allows for some flashy dance arrangements, including “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” and “Turn It Off,” making “TBOM” truly a taste of Broadway.
“The Book of Mormon” plays through Sunday, Jan. 20, at The Paramount.