It's the second coming of The Book of Mormon's national tour, with a new cast singing that ancient tale of the angel Moroni's appearance in late-1800s upstate New York. The elders still ring the world's doorbells, shouting out wow, and fight female genital mutilation in Uganda. And it's convenient that they've arrived for the holidays, because this might be the best time for their message. Though, before anyone trades in their Christmas Carol tickets, that Ugandan plot should be a tipoff that this message comes delivered in a winning and hilarious, but very much R-rated song-and-dance package.
Of course, anyone familiar with the show's creators, irreverent satirical geniuses Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park) and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q), already know what they're getting. As in their other shows, The Book of Mormon exhibits unbridled optimism in the face of undeniable misery. Faced with warlords? Maggots in your scrotum? Lost your faith? Sing, dance, and when the world gets crazy, use that craziness to your advantage, flipping it for the greater good. While Mormonism appears to be the subject here, with its relatively recent origin story and seemingly silly mythology, it's really just the easiest entry point for many of us to accept a loving critique of religion in general.
Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, and choreographed by Nicholaw, our guides are Elder Price (David Larsen) and Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand), missionaries receiving their first two-year-long assignment. Larsen's blonde-haired and toothy, with a true believer's grin and the sort of entitlement that broadcasts certainty in the face of all closed doors. Strand, short, round, bespectacled, with a gratingly cartoonish voice, most recalls his Broadway predecessor, Josh Gad, perhaps relying too much on the impression, though he's clearly having a great time with the role. Candace Quarrels' Nabulungi makes a fine wide-eyed ingenue, and has just as much fun with Strand during the double-entendre-filled, gospel-winking "Baptize Me."
There's an irony in having Black Nativity playing in one part of town, while this plays in another. In many ways, they're two sides of the same coin - both visiting Africa, both adapting bible stories to suit present-day circumstances. Both also leave their audiences with a feel-good message, probably humming one of their tunes on the way out. It just so happens that in the case of The Book of Mormon, that tune is probably the blasphemous Lion King spoof "Hasa Diga Eebowai."