Sure, laugh at the Mormons and their crazy creation myths all you want—but are they really any nuttier than stories of, say, a virgin getting pregnant and delivering a deity? The Book of Mormon, the 2011 Tony-winning musical now making a brief pitstop at the Oriental Theatre, has always worn its affection for the mysterious workings of faith on its short white shirtsleeves. Creators Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone also clearly love and understand the conventions of musical theater. (Parker and Stone showed that back in 1999 with South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.)
Book of Mormon is crass and juvenile, but also mostly smart about its targets, which include colonialism in both theater and the larger world. (“Hasa Diga Eebowai”—allegedly translated as “Fuck you, God”—remains the best send-up of “Hakuna Matata” imaginable.) The show also offers a reminder of why believing in something, whether friendship or faith, matters when you’re facing a sea of troubles (AIDS, warlords, maggots in your scrotum).
As golden-boy missionary Elder Price, Kevin Clay nails the blend of self-absorption and self-doubt driving the character’s travails in Uganda. Conner Peirson seems to be channeling the late Stephen Furst’s Flounder in Animal House to delightful effect as sidekick-turned-theological-star Elder Cunningham. Kayla Pecchioni stands out as Nabulungi, the young Ugandan woman who seeks answers from Elder Cunningham’s pop-culture spin on Mormonism. The sound in the ensemble numbers is a bit muddy, but the message here is still clear—and surprisingly appropriate for the season. v