Two newbie Mormons aren’t prepared for the manure of all missionary posts that awaits them. Elder Price the fresh-faced alpha believes that God lives on the planet Kolob and prays for two dreamy years in Orlando. His tubby loser sidekick Elder Cunningham just wants a friend and hopes to impress his dad.
Fungus shiitake mushroom! The odd couple is sent to poverty-stricken Uganda to convert dark-skinned natives who steal their luggage and curse God and all of his orifices when they sing “Hasa Diga Eebowai!” Singing “F— You God” is their way of surviving child rape, mutilation, AIDS, and violent warlords who shoot innocent people in the face.
There are no boundaries in the musical comedy The Book of Mormon: Clean cut Mormon guys in crisp short sleeved shirts are ridiculed as glee-club wimps and closet gays. Africans are portrayed as sickly step-and-fetch-it fools and violent thugs. Lyrics are vulgar, snarky, and sprinkled with the word clitoris more than anyone wants to hear.
Irreverent and over the top, The Book of Mormon pokes fun at everything Mormon from doorbell ringers to wrinkled deacons, and just about every aspect of religion. The kicker is that the outlandish narrative is funny and makes sense. Buried under all of the wicked gags, the flaw of all religions gleams like the golden Mormon plates – religion can do nothing to end suffering in Africa or anywhere.
Step by step, the spoof shows how religions box up feelings and rationalize racial superiority. Making a crowd laugh through it all is quite brilliant. The trick is to borrow ideas and characters from other musicals and movies (Annie, Wicked, Spamalot, Star Wars, Star Trek), and a few mass murderers and cannibals (Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer).
It starts by skewering the Mormon creation story under a sunlit structure that resembles the storybook temple off the I-5 in La Jolla. God, Joseph Smith, and golden Angel Moroni are there. Jesus Christ speaks in the voice of cartoon character Eric Cartman from “South Park.” Way to go Trey.
If you’re not sure who that is you need to watch more TV and live theater. The Book of Mormon won nine Tony Awards, with book, music, and lyrics by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the potty-mouthed animated series “South Park,” and Robert Lopez, of the musical Avenue Q.
The production at the Civic holds enough Broadway value to make it worth the ticket price. The woman who slogged out of her middle row seat in front of everyone on opening night probably couldn’t stand the rotten sound mix which plagues the Civic Theatre, aka The Barn. The sound was so loud and over-modulated we couldn’t hear key punch lines, though we heard “I’ve got maggots in my scrotum” loud and clear multiple times. Maybe that’s what sent her scrambling.
A few people behind me were singing along. They said they owned the album which won a Grammy in 2011. Don’t run out and buy it. The songs are funny but formulaic and too big climatically, essentially musical yelling.
The plot is old school romantic. As round and loveable Elder Cunningham, Cody Jamison Strand yells till he’s hoarse to give the character enthusiasm. He’s a bungler but saves the day by embellishing Mormon doctrine with boyish superhero powers. And holy underwear, he gets the African girl – to go for a baptism. He flubs her name every time, “Oh Neutrogena…” and other variations, which is hilarious and speaks to the idea of clueless outsiders meddling in Africa since forever.
Understudy Tallia Brinson played the lead ingénue role of Nabulungi on Wednesday, though she was not noted in the cast list insert. A lovely singer, she sang about wanting t0
go to Salt Lake City with clear tone and faux accent, but I wished her character would have fallen harder for the inspired geek.
Under the giggles the show reveals horrors real and imagined and doubts about faith.
David Larsen delivers a chiseled Elder Price and bright voice, yet even his fine enunciation is swallowed up by the orchestra at times. The overachiever who dreams of Disney World and Orlando ends up getting the holy book rammed up his arse instead, a scene made humorous with his rump in the air and X-ray visual. His visit to Mormon hell is especially vivid with multi tiered sets and giant horned devil, assorted evil pals, and giant coffee cups.
Wholesome Mormon lads draw screams in gleeful chorus lines and tapping time steps set to “Turn it Off,” especially their leader Pierce Cassedy. And watch for percussive hints from “The Lion King.”
While some may find the Mormon slam excessive, the ending is romantically hopeful. Mormon capitalists are riding this musical wagon in flamboyant style. While the program doesn’t include a song list, there are three full page ads for ordering “The Book of Mormon” online, along with ads for Lexus and high end furniture.
The Book of Mormon runs through June 8 at the San Diego Civic Theatre.