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Review: ‘Book of Mormon’ has a superb start in Phoenix (Includes first-hand account)

(Note this post contains some strong language)

Because The Book of Mormon is created in part by the South Park duo, I expected to hear a fair amount of crude humor, religious mockery and boundary pushing. But I never imagined I’d laugh so hard (and often) about truly horrible subjects.The musical has a unique way of making light of these awful topics, while still making you reflect on the lives of the people who are subjected to the atrocities in the real world. It’s a surprisingly smart balance of mockery and genuine emotion. Combine the raucous laughter with the musical’s astonishing choreography, catchy lyrics and the entire cast’s superb acting, and The Book of Mormon was a unique and delightful experience.

The story follows two Mormon missionaries, Elder Kevin Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) and Elder Arnold Cunningham (A.J. Holmes), and their mission to Uganda to baptize local tribes into the Mormon church. Price is a powerhouse Mormon who believes he’s chosen by God to be the next best thing for Mormonism since Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder. Cunningham is a nerdy, social outlier who is desperate for a friend and knows more about popular culture than the Mormon faith itself.

During their adventure, the unlikely duo face enormous odds right from the get-go when bandits steal their luggage. Things only get worse for Cunningham and Price when they learn that the other Mormon elders who have been serving in this district haven’t converted or baptised a single person. As the Ugandans put it, every few years white boys will come and tell them Jesus can solve all of their problems; they preach for a few weeks and then leave. Yet all of their problems remain.

With this message firmly instilled into them, Price and Cunningham face off against various sinful circumstances, such as: General Buttfuckingnaked, a local warlod who belives a woman’s clitoris is a source of power and thus must be removed; a tribe who preaches that a man can cure his AIDS by having sex with a virgin, but the only remaining virgins are babies; inner turmoil among the Mormon elders who struggle with homosexual thoughts, and Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, a frightful place where the elders’ angst manifests.

The boys are led through these trials by a delightful guide, the sweet and innocent Nabulungi, played wonderfully by Alexandra Ncube.

Although the musical starts off with outrageous and vulgar songs like Hasa Diga Eebowai and the homo-conformative number, Turn It Off, the musical has a surprisingly progressive feel and boasts a broad sense of humanism. It brims with witty one-liners, immature humor and even several touching moments. The cast never miss a note, and do an excellent job being heard over the audience’s near-constant guffaws.

The choreography is perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the musical. The cast dance, leap and twirl with such synchronicity that it’s a marvel everybody hits their steps and nobody stumbles into each other. Especially for songs like Spooky Mormon Hell Dream and We Are Africa, where there are more than a dozen characters on stage with various costumes and performing their own role. It’s chaos, but it’s also impressively organized.

The Book of Mormon is a riot, and if you can look past the crude humor and religious blasphemy, it’s an absolute must-see musical. It’s hard to discuss specifics without ruining a few of the surprises, but the play is unlike anything else. As with the Broadway original three years ago, the national tour is by far one of the funniest musicals this century.

The Book of Mormon runs at ASU Gammage in Tempe, Ariz. from Oct. 21 to Nov. 8.

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