Seven cast members of The Book of Mormon dance in a row, facing in profile to the left of the photo. Their arms are stretched in front of them, and each of them has one leg kicked out straight in front. They are wearing Mormon missionary uniforms (black trousers, short-sleeved white shirts, ties, black shoes).
It's still got a kick: The Book of Mormon national tour at Cadillac Palace Credit: Julieta Cervantes

The Book of Mormon is back in Chicago, slightly rewritten since it last played here in 2018 but still the same wildly irreverent take on that most quintessential of homegrown white American religions: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After the hit musical opened on Broadway in 2011, it played in Chicago four times prepandemic, including a nearly yearlong sit-down production. Now, a non-Equity national tour—directed and choreographed by Jennifer Werner and based on the Broadway production—is playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. 

The Book of Mormon
Through 4/16: Tue 7:30 PM, Wed 2 and 7:30 PM, Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM; Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph,, $40-$150

If you’re unfamiliar, a glance at the creative team’s bios gives you an idea of the type of humor you’re in for; two of the cowriters (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) also created South Park, while the third (Robert Lopez) cocreated Avenue Q. The show opens with a group of teenaged Mormon boys getting paired off to embark on two-year missions, where they will attempt to win converts in such heathen countries as Norway, France, and Japan. When golden boy Elder Price (Sam McLellan) and gawky Elder Cunningham (Sam Nackman) are partnered together, they are assigned to a remote village in Uganda—much to the disappointment of Elder Price, who had prayed to go to his favorite place on earth, Orlando.

This is only the first beef that Elder Price has with his Heavenly Father. In Uganda, he and Elder Cunningham find that the existing team of missionaries has failed to baptize a single convert. The local villagers are more concerned with a host of problems ranging from the AIDS pandemic to the threat of a violent warlord. As Elder Price becomes increasingly disillusioned, Elder Cunningham stumbles into success as an evangelist with the help of his newfound friend, Nabulungi (Berlande). 

Despite the Mormon context, those who were raised in conservative American Christianity will relate to many of the religious elements of the show, from the crippling guilt and repression (“Turn It Off”) to the terror of hell (“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”). Also, the Ugandan characters are depicted in stereotypical ways that reflect the attitudes of American exceptionalism and white saviorism that tend to underpin American religious missions. 

The portrayal of the Ugandans has prompted accusations of racism since the show’s earliest years, and during Broadway’s pandemic shutdown, the creators rewrote several scenes at the behest of Black cast members. I’m not convinced that the rewrites succeed at better centering the Black characters, but I view the more cringeworthy scenes in Uganda as satirical critiques of the white religious lens through which the story is told. Full disclosure, I went on several short-term missions trips with an evangelical Christian church as a young teen, and I think this show brilliantly lampoons the often harmful assumptions behind such endeavors. 

From the jaunty opening tune, “Hello!,” to the hilariously sacrilegious “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” the ensemble numbers offer plenty of fun with this cast. Berlande performs a heart-wrenching reprise of the latter when Nabulungi realizes that the missionaries’ promise of paradise won’t help her in this lifetime—a rare, serious moment before the show launches back into gleeful satire. Overall, although I enjoyed certain actors’ performances more than others, this touring cast delivers the comedic goods in this send-up of an all-American religion.