The starship known as “The Book of Mormon” has landed in Minneapolis, and its profane brilliance is temporarily blinding. The show had me at “Hello” (its winning first song).
The first national tour of this Broadway musical that won nine Tonys opened Wednesday at the Orpheum Theatre. It is as vibrant as the version that’s rocking in Times Square. The acting ensemble delivers with comic and sometimes endearing gusto.
The production, directed with razzmatazz by Trey Parker and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, vividly highlights the sharp satire of a show that sends up religion, racism, sexism, homophobia and musical theater.
Written and composed by Parker and Matt Stone (of TV’s “South Park”) and Robert Lopez (of the puppet musical “Avenue Q”), “Mormon” is about American teens on a mission to Uganda. Elder Price (Mark Evans), a straitlaced princeling of the church who thinks Orlando is heaven, has been paired with Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill), a chubby fellow who is prone to messing up.
They hope to convert Africans to their religion, but run into difficulties. For starters, the two young men were paired by their church to work as best friends but are an odd couple. More important, the problems of the Africa they encounter do not make it fertile soil for their message. Genital mutilation, AIDS and child rape are rampant, as are gun-toting tyrants.
The two have a falling out. Elder Cunningham, who uses his imagination to fill in Mormon scripture, makes a connection with a girl named Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware).
A straightforward description of the plot makes it sound offensive. The religious beliefs are shown as ridiculous. The Africans are seeming savages without redeeming culture. But this is all satire, borne on the wings of vibrant music conducted by Cian McCarthy. It is masterfully done.
“Mormon” is full of pop and theater cultural jokes, with snippets that skewer “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” “The Sound of Music.” The send-ups come so fast that they can fly right over our heads. But this exuberantly funny show is more than a cultural pastiche. The acting company is sterling. O’Neill’s Elder Cunningham follows the moves of a character created on Broadway by Josh Gad. O’Neill invests him with insecurity and charm, winning our sympathy.
Evans’ Elder Price is not as angelic-sounding as the one that Andrew Rannells created in New York. His rendition of “I Believe” does not fly as high. But Evans’ take on this lead character is funkier, and successful in other ways. Every time Elder Price swivels his hips, some electric transformer somewhere seems to explode.
Ware is delightful as Nabulungi. She invests her character with innocence and wit. The company includes two talented performers who audiences may remember from “The Scottsboro Boys.” Josh Breckenridge is uproarious as the Doctor with maggots in his scrotum and Christian Dante White plays a number of ensemble parts with power.