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Updated Friday, January 11, 2013 at 07:01 AM

'Book of Mormon': an outrageous, but good-natured, trip from Utah to Africa | Theater review

By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

And lo, Jesus and the Angel Moroni and characters from "The Lord of the Rings" and "Star Trek" shall appear before you. And two wide-eyed Mormon missionaries shall travel from Utah to deepest Africa to rescue Broadway from its doldrums, and spread irreverent raunch in a blockbuster musical.

Though not prophesied in Scripture, "The Book of Mormon" has now been delivered unto Seattle's Paramount Theatre.

The wildly popular show may not heal the sick or raise the dead. But its much-hyped reputation for audacious satire, expert razzle-dazzle and good-natured outrageousness is well-deserved.

The nine-time Tony Award winner is a barbed, bubbly and brisk buddy romp about a Mutt-and-Jeff pair of teenage "elders" (missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) sent off to a Ugandan village to evangelize.

Elder Price (excellent Mark Evans), a smug and square-jawed go-getter, would much rather be saving souls at Disney World. His assigned sidekick, Elder Cunningham (adorable Chris O'Neill), is a shlumpy screw-up who makes stuff up — including the holy Book of Mormon, which he revises with scraps from "Star Trek" and "Star Wars."

The comedic contrast between these likable bumblers, and between them and wary Ugandans who are beset by AIDS, forced female circumcision, a vicious warlord (Derrick Williams) and worse, is fecund territory for "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who wrote and composed the show with Robert Lopez.

So are past Broadway tuners the show cleverly nods to (like "The King and I"), and splashy TV variety hours of yore. (Scott Pask's sets are killer.)

Uproarious musical numbers, staged and choreographed with witty flash and verve by Casey Nicholaw (who co-directed with Parker), plays up the culture-clash theme, as do the score's zinger-laden lyrics.

The natives share their deceptively upbeat philosophy of life in a sly "Lion King" sendup, "Hasa Diga Eebowai." The local squad of missionaries, led by swishy Elder McKinley (terrific Grey Henson), shares a coping strategy in "Turn It Off" — a hilarious tap-dance extravaganza, extolling the "cool Mormon trick" of repressing "pesky" thoughts and sexual urges.

All is fair game here. America's most false (and condescending) images of Africans as childlike innocents or romantic savages are repeatedly skewered.

Colorful bits of Mormon theology — for instance, the mysterious gold plates the Book of Mormon was inscribed on, according to the religion's founder, Joseph Smith — are mined for riotous absurdity. (The church's racist past is panned, but its former practice of polygamy escapes ridicule.)

There are gags that may offend even the most blasé patron. Mormons, with their reputation for wholesomeness and non-mainstream religious beliefs, are easy marks. And scatological, profane and politically incorrect yuks can be cheap shots.

But "The Book of Mormon" is also a cheery love story, with a bromance and a (chaste) flirtation with a lovely villager (Samantha Marie Ware). And if the show has a theology, it's that any religious doctrine taken too literally is limiting and ludicrous. As for curing the world's ills, fellowship and niceness are a good start.

That message is far secondary, though, to the business of entertaining your socks off, "South Park" style, with dancing devils and Starbucks cups (in a great "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" number), genitalia jokes, and the stunning naiveté of a pair of fresh-faced boys on a mission.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

'The Book of Mormon'

Through Jan. 20, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle. Note: entire run is sold out, except for 20 tickets ($20 each) available by day-of lottery for each show. Info: www.stgpresents.org


JOAN MARCUS
The Seattle stop for the touring "The Book of Mormon" is sold out except for a day-of ticket lottery.




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