Story: A group of eager young missionaries graduates from the Latter-Day Saints Church Ministry Training Center in Utah, and each of the young men is given his two-year assignment as well as the name of his partner during that period. Two by two, they’re sent to places such as Norway, France and even other parts of America. Elder Kevin Price is shocked, though, when he learns that his destination is Uganda and that his partner is the nerdy class dunce, Elder Arnold Cunningham.
With his hopes of preaching in Orlando dashed, Elder Price arrives in Uganda and is further disillusioned when greeted by skeptical and blasphemous natives who are mired in poverty, famine and disease and terrorized by a ruthless warlord. Kevin joins a cadre of other Mormon missionaries there who have failed to convert a single Ugandan, while Arnold is befriended by Nabulungi, daughter of village leader Mafala Hatimbi. She inspires Arnold to teach her neighbors about Mormonism, but unfortunately he’s never actually read the book.
No worries; Arnold simply uses his knowledge of science-fiction and fantasy tales to re-interpret the story of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the Book of Mormon to give the natives hope for salvation from the torments of their daily lives. Their newfound courage, though, angers the murderous war lord, while Arnold’s loose version of the history of Mormonism riles the mission president and other Mormon leaders who have visited the village to see what ‘wonders’ Elder Cunningham has worked.
Highlights: The Book of Mormon opened on Broadway in 2011 after nearly seven years in development. Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of TV’s South Park fame, and Robert Lopez, who co-created the raunchy Avenue Q, the brash and vulgar show garnered an impressive nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. It’s still going strong nearly two years later, and has spawned a national tour that began in August 2012 and has now arrived at The Fox, playing before packed houses.
Other Info: All you need to know about The Book of Mormon is that it “faithfully” follows the successful combination of irreverence and low-brow, scatological, toilet humor that permeates the South Park TV series. While many of the jokes are funny, just as many are crude, lewd and sophomoric. Additionally, the script is liberally sprinkled with epithets and four-letter vulgarities, so parents -- and any sophisticated adults -- definitely should heed the warning.
Nonetheless, the ho-hum lyrics are offset by consistently sprightly music that gives The Book of Mormon a jaunty, convivial spirit, if you don’t mind the shocking public execution of an innocent villager along the way. Believe it or not, there’s even a sweet inner core to the story, as the non-descript, man-child Arnold finds the courage to help the people of the village where he is sent, and Kevin is able to get past his self-importance to contribute as well.
Mark Evans is fine as Elder Price, giving him the swagger and delusional bravado the role requires. As Arnold, Christopher John O’Neill has the dumpy look and eager countenance to convey the innate good nature of the nerdy missionary.
Samantha Marie Ware is fetching and appealing as the sincere Nabulungi (whose name Arnold never quite masters), and Kevin Mambo brings wisdom and practicality to the role of her father, Mafala Hatimbi.
Other supporting players include Derrick Williams as the savage warlord with a naughty name, Grey Henson as Elder McKinley, a missionary who regularly fights his homosexual instincts, and Mike McGowan as Joseph Smith, whose life takes a wide turn when recounted by the imaginative Arnold.
There are a number of pleasant musical numbers and some charming choreography conceived by Casey Nicholaw, who co-directed this unusual musical with Parker. Oddly, the first act is short and occasionally flat, but the longer second act brings some vitality and surprising humor to lift the book when it seems to be floundering.
Scott Pask’s scenic designs are clever if somewhat cartoonish, lit by Brian MacDevitt, and Brian Ronan adds the sound design. Ann Roth’s costumes are highlighted by the villager’s colorful garb that contrasts bluntly with the short-sleeved white shirts, narrow black ties and black pants of the missionaries.
Parker, Stone and Lopez have found a formula that works for them and has a sizable audience with a penchant for bathroom humor. If that appeals to you, or if you like a salty story with a surprisingly sweet center, then The Book of Mormon will not disappoint.
Musical: The Book of Mormon
Group: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through March 3
Tickets: From $25, including a daily pre-show lottery at The Fox box office two hours prior to each performance. For regular tickets, contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus