It’s been nine years since it first opened on Broadway, and The Book of Mormon is back on tour and just as raunchy and remarkable as ever.
Playing now through March 29 at the Ahmanson Theater, the musical written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone alongside EGOT winner Robert Lopez is an irreverent, vulgar, bawdy, and perhaps most surprisingly a sometimes-sweet, formulaic, splashy big-number musical with a giant heart and a foul mouth.
This Production, the sixth I’ve seen, has moments that feel slightly less relevant than they may have nine years ago when the show originally opened, but the cast infuses so much energy and enthusiasm that it felt really fresh. The musical itself, shouldn’t be as wonderful as it is. It seems a gimmicky thirty-minute idea at best, but it deftly handles the broad over-the-top crass humor by offering easy jokes alongside bigger ideas of faith, friendship, and the power of belief. And the music is flat-out great.
Mormon tells the story of Elders Price (Liam Tobin ), and Cunningham (Jordan Matthew Brown) two nineteen-year-old Utah Mormons, who are sent to Uganda where they are to serve out their mission together. Their wide-eyed optimism and dreams of being in the land of The Lion King, are soon dashed by the reality of the extreme poverty of the village they’re sent to. A village that is also under threat by the evil warlord General Butt Fucking Naked (Corey Jones). Most Broadway musicals start the same, with an introduction to the world song, followed by the protagonist singing a song fueled by their dramatic need, a song that lets the audience know what the protagonists journey will be. And this is no exception, the introduction to the world comes with a pair of catchy songs “Hello,” and “Two by Two. Kevin Price emerges as our protagonist. He’s an eager young man who believes he was chosen by god to make the world a better place, a belief he sings about in the hilarious, “You and Me, but Mostly me.” Then it’s off to Africa. Upon their arrival in Uganda, the musical seems to start over. We are re-introduced to the world, this time through the eyes of the poor Ugandan villagers, led by Mafala (Jacques C. Smith) and his daughter Nabulungi (Alyah Chanelle Scott ) and the stark contrast between Mormon Utah and Ugandan Village results in one of the musical highlights of the evening, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” a sort of third world version of “Hakuna Matata.” Price and Cunningham soon realizes the incredibly difficult work they have cut out for them. The other Elders who are in the village, led by Elder McKinley (Andy Huntington Jones) have been trying unsuccessfully to convert Africans to the church for a while now, and Price and Cunningham might just be the fresh blood they need to turn things around.
Things don’t really go according to his ultimate plan, and Price, who had dreams of being sent on a mission to his favorite place in the whole world, Orlando, decides the violence and extreme poverty of Uganda is too much for him to handle, and he runs away, leaving Elder Cunningham to do the missionary work without him.
In Price’s absence, the awkward, overly-eager Cunningham, who has admitted earlier in the show to being a compulsive liar who’s never even read The Book of Mormon, starts making up fantastical tales about Joseph Smith and the history of the Mormon church in order to gain the interest of the Africans and convert them to the church. His stories include elements from classic stories like Lord of The Rings and Star Wars, and he he invents magical frogs that cure AIDS. He claims all of this is in the Book, and it starts to work, the Africans slowly become converted to Mormonism.
Meanwhile, Elder Price has been to hell, literally in the brilliantly staged “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” and back as he tries to find the courage within himself to be the hero he used to believe he was supposed to be. Renewed by a profound sense of restored faith, he heads right for the warlord general’s camp singing “I Believe,” an ode to the Mormon religion, with lyrics that un-ironically just state what a Mormon believes. It’s perhaps the most brilliant use of fact as humor since Tina Fey went on SNL as Sarah Palin and word-for-word just repeated one of her interviews. In the end, the Mission President from Salt Lake comes to the village to congratulate the Elders on all their success, and what they get is the shocking African Cunningham-inspired version of the Book of Mormon re-enacted as a performance by the villagers, led by Nabulungi.
Having stood even a small test of time, Mormon, nearly a decade old now, will assuredly go down as one of the most influential, irreverent, eye-poppingly shocking musicals ever conceived. And while it’s also one of the funniest things to happen to Broadway, it’s also surprisingly warmhearted and sweet. It’s everything you could ever want a musical about Mormons to be.
The Book of Mormon
Books, Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez.
Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker
The Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center
135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown LA 90012
Run Time: 2 Hours and 30 minutes including one intermission.