'Book of Mormon' a mocking hug

Mark EvansTHE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour(c) Joan Mar.
Mark EvansTHE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour(c) Joan Mar.
Posted: August 02, 2014

'An atheist's love letter to religion." That's how Matt Stone, one of the show's creators, described The Book of Mormon, now at the Forrest Theatre for the next six weeks. This prize-winning musical (nine Tony Awards, among many others) was written by Robert Lopez, Trey Parker, and Stone (these last two are the snark-meisters of TV's South Park - more prizes).

Mormons have gotten a surprising lot of attention lately ( Big Love, Angels in America) and The Book of Mormon, a quirky, crowd-pleasing show, gives them a big hug while mocking them. Up for ridicule is not only the bizarre founding story of the golden tablets and the angel Moroni but also the whole idea of missionary work.

The satire doesn't stop with religion; given the choreography (Casey Nicholaw), and the sameness of the songs, and the extravaganza production numbers - a dream of a huge red Hell, for instance - it is also poking fun at Big Broadway Shows, while being one. Nice work if you can get it, and they got it.

Just about anybody with a front door will recognize the scene of the first song as the proselytizers ring doorbells and sing: "Hello, hello." There they are, all white, all male, all young, all in white shirts and black pants and black ties, short of hair and clear of eye. Their group song, "Turn It Off," is a hymn to repression, just as their song "We Are Africa" is a hymn to delusion ( The Lion King has much to answer for).

When the most successful of the group of young men, Elder Price (the excellent KJ Hippensteel), is paired with the ne'er-do-well Elder Cunningham (the endearing Christopher John O'Neill), they are sent to Uganda to convert the "natives." The missionaries already there (Grey Henson is a standout) have failed to make any impression on the locals. There is, of course, a beautiful maiden (the lovely Alexandra Ncube), a ruthless warlord, and a bunch of impoverished, browbeaten villagers.

Well, one thing leads to another: Elder Cunningham baptizes everybody, the missionaries discover the value of imagination, and everybody learns that much theology is metaphor.


The Book of Mormon

Through Sept. 14 at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut St. Tickets $67-$162. Information: www.forrest-theatre.com, 1-800-447-7400.

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