By Kimberly Rau
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the animated hit South Park, have had a long-running goldmine in their raunchy, satirical comedy musical “The Book of Mormon,” which follows two earnest Mormon young men on their two-year mission to save souls. And while it definitely pokes fun at the more unbelievable aspects of the faith, underneath the swearing and sex jokes is an uplifting, if irreverently presented, message about perseverance, faith, and finding your inner truth.
Elder Price is a Mormon golden boy: Good-looking, strident in his faith, and convinced that because he’s played life by the rules all this time, he’ll get a spot in sunny Orlando for his mission. He’s more than a little bemused when he gets paired up with the eager-to-please but reluctant-to-stick-to-the-facts Elder Cunningham, who has prayed to be paired with Price. He’s floored when, instead of Disney World, they get sent to Uganda, where everyone is poor and living in abject terror of female circumcision and AIDS. No one wants to hear about Jesus, or Joseph Smith, until Cunningham starts getting a little creative with his facts–mostly because he’s never actually read the Book of Mormon. But neither have the villagers, who find it totally plausible that Boba Fett could have had a hand in the formation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Add in some truly funny musical numbers, stellar dancing, and a couple of deeply moving moments and it’s a recipe for success. Even the actual Church has taken things in stride–they used to have an ad in the theater programs suggesting people “read the book” after seeing the show.
Here’s what Book of Mormon is: Funny. Raunchy. Packed with talent. Heavy on well-executed dance numbers. Perfect for anyone who loves the South Park-style of social messages told in the most outrageous ways possible.
Here’s what it is not: Family-friendly. Appropriate for your Biblical literalist family members who don’t enjoy jokes about religion. Something for the faint of heart or the prudish. If you’re still dealing with the after-effects of negative religious experiences, this may or may not be for you. (The number “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” is probably a lot less funny if your parents kept you in line with tales of literal fire and brimstone; for instance, but the song “Turn It Off,” about repressing feelings that go against the church’s teachings, is dark humor at its best.)
Jordan Matthew Brown plays the puppy-dog-like follower Elder Cunningham perfectly. He’s hilariously awkward, has the voice to carry off the role and gives a performance that runs the gamut from sympathetic to farcical. Liam Tobin is the buttoned-up Elder Price who has to reconcile with his own crisis of faith. The straight man to Brown’s slapstick, Tobin has a powerful voice (“I Believe” is already one of the best songs in the show and he just makes it better) and good stage presence. His Elder Price is naïve and a bit of a brown-noser, but not obnoxious or intentionally mean, and the two are an excellent fit. Rounding out the cast of excellent solo voices is Kayla Pecchioni, who plays the village beauty, Nabulungi, who desperately wants to believe that converting to Mormonism is her path to a better life. In a word, she’s fantastic, and her songs are some of the best in the show.
So, if you’re easily offended, skip it, but if you love dark, politically incorrect comedy paired with big Broadway numbers, head to PPAC before this Tony-award winner rolls out of town on Sunday.
The Book of Mormon runs through Sunday, April 28, at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org, or by calling 401.421.2787