“The Book of Mormon” kicked off the early part of the decade as fierce satire, highly offensive, rude and crude. And years later, as the end of the decade is upon us, the show is still fun, fierce, irreverent, juvenile and sharp.
Broadway San Jose is the latest stop for the national tour of the nine-time Tony Award winner, which rang the nation’s doorbells back in 2011 for the first time. And while there are certainly plenty that might look at the show as a playground for a bunch of religion-hating Broadway creative heathens, what cannot be undone by anyone is the pure glee and joy that radiates through the cast and their impeccable performances.
The story kicks off at a Mormon Missionary Training Center, where the chipper young charges, armed with crisp, white shirts and pearly white teeth are ready to spread the word of Mormonism founder Joseph Smith. There are exotic, thrilling places throughout the world ready to welcome the young, white men whose only association with anything black is their super thin ties they seem to sleep in. The mean streets of Norway and Orlando await.
That Orlando dream is strong with Elder Price (a fantastic Liam Tobin), but it’s quickly snuffed out twice in one fell swoop. Not only is Price now bound for Uganda, but he is paired with the compulsive, geeky pipsqueak Elder Cunningham (Jacob-Ben Schmuel, he of impeccable comic timing). To make matters worse, Price is now bound with Cunningham to Rule 72 – they must stick together non-stop, with the occasional bathroom break being the exception.
Uganda is not initially kind to the two very green missionaries. Led by General Butt-Fu**ing Naked (a strong Corey Jones), their luggage is stolen, and the citizens have some strong, musical feelings about God, sung with a “Hakuna Matata,” spirit and an irony that is wildly infective. Their “Don’t worry” saying has a bit of a twist.
The people of Uganda are wonderful, hopeful but have been burned before, and have no interest in engaging more false promises on how God is going to save them from their brutal circumstances. And the missionaries are thoroughly discouraged by their inability to get someone, anyone to convert to Mormonism. After all, since 1978, the missionaries’ logic concludes, black people can now participate fully as Mormons, so what’s the delay?
There is one delightful young woman who dreams of the unicorns that await in Sal Tlay Ka Siti, and that is Nabulungi (a wonderful Alyah Chanelle Scott). It is her belief that it’s a real place, and with this joyous vision, she and Cunningham work together to convert the others, with hilarious and disastrous results. All this is done in front of her very skeptical father and village leader Mafala (a thunderously sharp Jacques C. Smith).
While there are certainly some things that push hard right up to the line, if not cross it altogether, the show, created by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, solidified by master musician Robert Lopez, remains as sharp satire. The show sharply lampoons the ignorance and perceptions of those coming from a colonial diaspora thinking that everyone else has problems.
Lopez’ music and songs are still fantastic. Numbers like the opening number “Hello,” and others such as “All American Prophet,” “Turn it Off,” featuring scene stealer Andy Huntington Jones as Elder McKinley, and the Elder Cunningham opus “Man Up” are all full of big Broadway stylings. Lopez does not hesitate to dot his numbers full of delightful send ups and touchstones of many Broadway hits.
And Casey Nicholaw, who has been positively killing in the choreo game for years, is wonderful here as the audience returns to some of his earlier Broadway work.
The show’s vulgarity and problematic tropes are not going to be for everyone. But if you find Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny hilarious, this show might be for you.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Broadway San Jose presents “The Book of Mormon”
Book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez
Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker
The Word: A show not for everyone, but one that still shows some sharp satirical bite.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
Broadway San Jose
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
255 S. Almaden Blvd., San Jose, CA 95113
Through July 21st
Tickets range from $43 – $228
For tickets, (800) 982-2787 or visit https://broadwaysanjose.com/