By now, everyone likely to be shocked, appalled or offended by the cheerfully profane The Book of Mormon seems to have vented, protested and moved on. The hilarious Tony-winning musical from the creators of South Park — and if that doesn’t warn you about the content nothing will — even premiered in Salt Lake City last year, just down the street from the church’s headquarters, selling out its two-week run.
The show, written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, is back for another run at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through Feb. 7, and the production is as delightful as ever. “Delightful” may sound like an odd word to use for a work that touches on AIDS and female circumcision and throws up a musical middle finger at a heavenly deity. Yet it’s an apt description of this engaging production, with its knowing, funny, often crude lyrics, dazzling choreography and ear-worm musical numbers. What’s most remarkable, though, is the fact that The Book of Mormon pulls off savage satire while still offering a bit of respect for the earnest faith of its young missionaries (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for its part, responds intelligently as usual, purchasing ads in the playbill and stationing a couple of friendly young men outside the parking garage).
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The latest production at the Broward Center is not much different from the version that passed through in 2013 — which means it’s worth seeing even if you’ve seen it before. The play tells the story of two young missionaries sent to Uganda, where they hope to convert Africans but instead find poverty, disease, a violent warlord bent on genital mutilation and a supreme disinterest in hearing from a benevolent God.
Still, Elder Price (Ryan Bondy), a zealous Mormon poster boy, is certain that he’s destined for greatness. His partner, the insecure, sloppy, fantasy-obsessed Elder Cunningham (this night played by Chad Burris, ably stepping in for Cody Jamison Strand), is more excited about the possibility of making a friend than actually baptizing anyone — until he meets Nabulungi (Candace Quarrels), the chief’s hopeful daughter.
The energetic, charismatic Bondy channels a big dash of Jim Carrey physicality into his role as the clean-cut Price (he’s equally at home with the soaring mock-seriousness of I Believe and the manic madness of Spooky Mormon Hell Dream — arguably the show’s best number — in which Elder Price is tortured by Satan, assorted demons and dancing cups of coffee for his lack of faith).
The entire touring cast is terrific, from the missionaries and African villagers to Quarrels, whose solo Sal Tlay Ka Siti (say it slowly) manages to be both funny and touching. Also a standout is Daxton Bloomquist as the closeted Elder McKinley, who demands your attention every time he steps into the spotlight (with or without a sparkly pink vest), whether he’s urging his fellow missionaries to swallow their secrets in Turn It Off or burlesquing his way across the stage as part of the superb chorus. The musical arrangements and the orchestra are as sharp as the humor.
That The Book of Mormon lives happily, crudely on is no surprise. The revelation is that it loses none of its appeal the second time around.