I feel wrong just talking about the scenes from The Book of Mormon. How does a musical production get away with people giving God the middle finger? Or even more inappropriate, holy books being shoved into unmentionable parts? Then there’s female genital mutilation, dysentery, AIDS, and unspeakable acts done to babies and frogs. Well, that’s exactly what The Book of Mormon does and has been doing successfully since it opened on Broadway in March 2011. I saw it last night in Costa Mesa at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and the entire theater was teary-eyed from laughter. There were times that I almost fell out of my seat from laughing so hard and just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get more inappropriate, it would surprise me yet again.
The Book of Mormon follows two Salt Lake City missionaries, Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes), as they attempt to share their scriptures with the people of a remote Ugandan village. The overachieving Elder Price wanted to be sent to Orlando and Elder Cunningham just wanted to have a real friend and be accepted by others, but in Uganda the missionaries are like fish out of holy water. They are faced with warlords, disease, and violence yet they persevere although it may not have been how they expected.
The highlight of the night was when Elder McKinley leads the missionaries in “our nifty little Mormon trick” to suppress inconvenient feelings with no more effort than the flick of a light switch. One of the funniest parts of the night was coupled with great dance moves and a catchy tune. I can’t imagine the difficulty in performing such elaborate, physically demanding numbers while maintaining perfect pitch and tone. It takes immeasurable amounts of talent and skill. And how they kept a straight face was the greatest feat of all.
Another especially brilliant, bizarre scene was the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream where Elder Price finds himself dreaming that he’s in the midst of Hades’ flames with the likes of Adolf Hitler and Johnny Cochran.
If you missed any of the absolutely inappropriate teaching of Elder Cunningham during his lessons, they were all summed up in the grand finale Ugandan reenactment to the Mission President including large, black strap-on props, a “stuffed” (in more ways than one) frog, and creative visuals of parts of the female anatomy on a man’s face. I was so shocked at the jaw-dropping actions that I scoured the theater for disapproving eyes. To my surprise, there wasn’t an unhappy, unsmiling face n the crowd. It was well-received and taken in fun. It’s rare that I will burst out with loud laughter but I couldn’t contain it during this scene. It was the most I laughed this year.
The Book of Mormon was pee-in-my-pants funny, outrageous, and shocking, which I expected, but what I didn’t expect was the superbly energetic dancing and catchy tunes. It’s my favorite musical in production.