The Book of Mormon, that hottest of hot tickets, has come back to South Florida to usher in the holiday season in its unconventional way.
The Tony Award-winning show’s sensibilities blend the clever parody and raunchiness of South Park with the sentimentality and pizazz of a classic Broadway musical. Nik Wallenda is probably the only other person who could walk such a thin line and make it to the other side triumphant.
But as the touring company now holding forth at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts so amply demonstrates, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the South Park guys), Robert Lopez (of Avenue Q fame) and co-director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw found the musical theater sweet spot with The Book of Mormon.
The show follows the misadventures of a pair of Mormon missionaries, Elder Price (David Larsen) and Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand), as they attempt to share their faith in war-torn Uganda.
The citizens they encounter in a little village terrorized by a self-styled general with an unprintable name (David Aron Damane) are remarkably functional, given that they deal daily with poverty, famine, AIDS and the general’s horrifying demands. But the message of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints isn’t nearly as compelling to the Ugandans as their defiantly cheerful anthem, Hasa Diga Eebowai — a song whose translated title is, like the general’s name, unprintable.
There’s a lot of that in The Book of Mormon, so consider this a parental advisory. The show’s creators certainly put taste and vulgarity to the test, yet the musical’s messages about doubt, friendship and the comforting power of faith also imbue it with a moving sweetness. And it’s hilarious. You may hate yourself for laughing at some of the gross-out humor, but laugh you will.
The cast at the Arsht is different from the one that played the Broward Center a year ago, but these men and women unerringly deliver the show’s song, dance and comedy.
The actors playing missionaries, including Pierce Cassedy as Elder McKinley (a razzle-dazzle kind of guy whose musical advice regarding same-sex or other no-no desires is Turn It Off), emanate such enthusiasm from every pore that you worry they’ll explode. Larsen’s Elder Price is the straightest of arrows, which makes his caffeine-fueled disintegration all the funnier. And Strand is, as the actors playing Elder Cunningham so often are, a captivating scene stealer, a cross between the Pillsbury Doughboy and Meatloaf.
Denée Benton creates an eager, innocent, radiantly lovely Nabulungi, a village gal whose name is variously mangled as “Noxzema,” “NutriBullet,” “Nala” and other variants by the smitten Elder Cunningham. James Vincent Meredith is earnestly protective as Mafala, Nabulungi’s dad and the village leader. And Anthony C. Chatmon II is funny, vocally impressive and squirm-inducing as the doctor suffering from maggots in a really sensitive part of his body. The ultra-buff Damane is physically imposing yet comically deft as the general.
Assuming you’re OK with the show’s style and content, the only beef you may have with the edition at the Arsht is that the sound is sometimes rock-concert loud, obliterating certain lyrics. That can be a blessing, as when the characters are performing Joseph Smith American Moses, a clever but humorously offensive number that mixes elements of Mormon history, pop culture and the Ugandans’ woes like some crazy showbiz blender. But mostly, you’ll want to hear what The Book of Mormon has to say.