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Arts & Culture

‘The Book of Mormon’ preaches to the choir

Any fan will tell you: Do whatever you have to do to see it before it leaves town

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Photos by Paul Kwiatkowski

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THE BOOK OF MORMON

through Nov. 10 | Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St. | 800-982-2787 | orlando.broadway.com | $50-$160

Fellow citizens of Orlando, I need to alert you to a terrible crime being committed nightly in our fair city. Traveling “performers” (from New York City, no less) have invaded the Bob Carr auditorium and are filling it with filthy language, indecent dancing and blasphemies against the Lord. And the awful part? As of this writing, The Book of Mormon’s local run (through Nov. 10) somehow isn’t yet completely sold out.

Elder Price (Mark Evans), a 19-year-old golden boy and a paragon of Mormon politeness, is primed to “do something incredible that blows God’s freakin mind,” while his perpetually smiling, sci-fi-obsessed mission partner, Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill), is an adorably awkward pathological liar. Together, they are sent from Salt Lake City to Africa by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, bringing the gospel of the Book of Mormon (or, as a show lyric has it, the Return of the Jedi of Christian scripture) to impoverished Ugandan villagers who seem more concerned with genital-mutilating warlords than with any of Mormonism’s possibilities. Price freaks out, abandons his partner and falls into purgatory with Johnnie Cochran, while klutzy Cunningham mans up all over himself, baptizing the chief’s daughter Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware) and inadvertently founding a new, Hobbit-friendly religion in the process.

If you didn’t already know this 2011 Tony-winning Best Musical was the work of South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker (in partnership with Avenue Q and Finding Nemo composer Robert Lopez), the distinctive voice of Mr. Garrison in the opening narration should tip you off; and the fourth song, in which the villagers’ charming “Hakuna Matata”-esque motto, “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” is translated as “Fuck you, God, in the ass, mouth and cunt” will certainly convince you that the South Park boys are behind this show. (If you are jumping right now to write an angry letter to the editor about “words that don’t belong in the newspaper,” this is NOT the show for you.)

For everyone else, I advise begging, borrowing or joining the $25 rush lottery held two hours before curtain each show – do anything you need to do to see this show before it leaves town. All the accolades heaped on the original production are accurate, and everything is faithfully reproduced on the road, from co-director Casey Nicholaw’s peppy choreography (with witty references to Martha Graham and marching band) to Scott Pask’s slide-in scenery. Even the score (which slyly spoofs The Lion King, Wicked, Fela! and even Danny Elfman’s Forbidden Zone) sounded solid by Bob Carr standards.

The touring cast, on the other hand, does an exemplary job of delivering the material in their own way, with Evans and O’Neill in particular finding fresh, funny takes on their roles.

If you couldn’t see the original cast on Broadway, I can’t imagine a better place on earth to see The Book of Mormon than Orlando, which plays a pivotal role in several scenes. Be prepared for long, enthusiastic crowd reactions to each reference, especially an iconic backdrop early in Act Two. If this play can make jaded locals like me loudly love the City Beautiful again, then perhaps its message of faith and perseverance is good for more than just big laughs and there really is a God … extraterrestrial or otherwise.

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