The Book of Mormon: Wicked, Juvenile and Hilarious

All together now!
All together now!
Photo by Joan Marcus

The setup:
By the time we witness the clitoridectomy kickline, or hear the repressed Ugandan villagers sing their peppy feel-good anthem, “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” which they happily translate as “Fuck You, God!” or live through the tale of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith's dysentery with appropriate brown banners flung through legs, we quickly realize we're not in Rodgers & Hammerstein territory anymore.
No, this is The Book of Mormon, and we're in the land of South Park.

The execution:
Conceived by social bad boys Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose subversive cartoon South Park shows no sign of fatigue after 16 years on Comedy Central, and abetted by composer Robert Lopez, no slouch himself – Tony winner for Avenue Q and co-writer with wife Kristen Anderson on the songs for Disney's Frozen – this trio merrily romps or kicks ass, depending on your viewpoint, through Mormon theology. What we get is unrepentant hilarity, enough political incorrectness to start a political party, and all the slickness of Broadway's best. It's no surprise that this jaunty, high-spirited poke in places a musical does not poke, deserves all its accolades, which includes a Tony Award for Best Musical (2011). The musical is still packing in audiences on Broadway, and this national tour from Broadway at the Hobby is still as irreverent, adolescent, goofy, adorable and nasty as ever.

The peppy Mormon boys, Elder Price (Gabe Gibbs, with the biggest smile imaginable) and schlub Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson, the most lovable nerd of nerds), are sent to Uganda for their two-year mission to convert the heathens. Convinced of his own power of persuasion, Price, who prayed to be sent to Orlando, confronts the ugly realities of life while trying to stay true to the LDS tenets, while inveterate liar Elder Cunningham makes up his own prophet history with generous doses from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. There are requisite subplots involving the chief's daughter (a radiantly naive Bryce Charles, substituting for Candace Quarrels), the horrible warlord General Butt Fucking Naked (Oge Agulue), and many references to the suppressed homosexuality of Elder McKinley (Daxton Bloomquist), but the two innocents lead the charge into our hearts.

The touring show seems just as big as the Broadway one, and just as lively under Casey Nicholaw (The Drowsy Chaperone and Spamalot) and Trey Parker's juicy direction, Scott Pask's winning set designs, Ann Roth's colorful costumes, and Brian MacDevitt's pro lighting. The entire ensemble show no sign of tour-itis and are positively gleeful to be here.

The verdict:
Whether your blue-haired Aunt Mary would find this show to her liking would be based upon her ability to be shocked by jokes about AIDS, frog fucking and genital mutilation. The Book of Mormon is definitely an equal-opportunity offender, but these two clueless Latter-day lambs are so sweet in their confrontation with war, poverty and famine that we just have to laugh. The satire is wicked and juvenile, but the show's the funniest one around.

If only presidential nominee and Latter-day Saint Mitt Romney had embraced this musical – and there's no evidence at all that he even saw the show – American history might have had a different arc. Laugh at that.

The Book of Mormon. Through January 15. Broadway at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 800-952-6560 or visit thehobbycenter.org. $50-$165.

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Hobby Center for the Performing Arts

800 Bagby St.
Houston, TX 77002

713-315-2525


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