The Book of Mormon Flies Back Into Houston, And No It's Not Toned Down

Conner Peirson as Elder Cunningham is back.
Conner Peirson as Elder Cunningham is back. Photo by Julieta Cervantes
The winner of nine Tony Awards and a perennial audience favorite in Houston — even as it offends some — The Book of Mormon is back at the Mischer Neurosciences Broadway at the Hobby Center for a short run.

This irreverent view of missionary life as experienced by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, focuses on two young missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham and their trials and tribulations as they encounter far more than they bargained for at the beginning of their two-year stint of service.

Conner Peirson plays the nebbishy Elder Cunningham, filled with good will and what appears to be a low aptitude for the missionary calling. He is also, as he feels the occasion calls for it, an extravagant liar.

The missionaries are sent to Uganda (Price had wanted Orlando. Florida) where they are promptly robbed and find themselves living in a village filled with unhappy and preyed upon inhabitants who aren't all quite ready to accept the word of the Lord.

"He has so much heart and is doing his best to do everything that he thinks people want from him but he doesn't quite have the awareness and he keeps missing the mark every single time," says Peirson of his character. "He is Elder Price's mission companion so for Cunningham he's very excited and thinks 'Cool, I get a best friend,' and Elder Price has a very different view of the situation."

Since its Broadway debut in 2011, The Book of Mormon has seen several changes to the show's song lyrics as well as references to characters both imagined and real. Famously conceived by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, as well as Robert Lopez, the show has been seen by millions of people.

Key to its success are its structure and creative writing, Peirson says. "Because of the structure of the show it's classic musical theater. It's set up in the song structure and the story that you would find in a lot of old heart-warming musicals," he says. Add to that the unexpected comedy and the result keeps people coming back repeatedly in part, he says, to catch the jokes they may have missed during the fast-paced delivery the last time.

Peirson says he came to musical theater honestly with both his parents involved as actors. He grew up listening to classical musicals: Danny Kaye and Gene Kelly. Throughout high school and college he practiced his craft.

Without telling him ahead of time, a friend of Peirson's signed him up for an open call for The Book of Mormon and as a result, he's been with the role for four years, the first as an understudy on Broadway, then an understudy on tour, and the last two years as the name actor in the role. It's that friend that he thanks at the end of his Playbill bio.

"I never thought I would end up in a suit and tie job but somehow I did," he says.

Ultimately, the audience members who leave in a huff at the intermission miss the musical's resolution which is all about love and service to others. But still, with a character named General Butt-Fucking Naked, those who are easily offended by expressively foul language, might want to sit this one out. Or bring smelling salts.

Performances of The Book of Mormon are scheduled for January 15-20 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information call 713-315-2525 or visit $40-$185.

***Also, for people who really want to see the show but are a bit short on cash, the production offers a ticket lottery at every show and the lucky winners get in for only $25 a seat. Here's the rules:

Entries will be accepted at the box office beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance; each person will print their name and the number of tickets (1 or 2) they wish to purchase on a card that is provided. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of tickets priced at $25 each (CASH ONLY). Only one entry is allowed per person. Cards are checked for duplication prior to drawing. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets. Limit one entry per person and two tickets per winner. Tickets are subject to availability. 
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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