It’s been 2 ½ years since the blockbuster musical “The Book of Mormon” last played the Twin Cities. In today’s world, that’s practically an eon.
When the show premiered on Broadway in 2011, the country was emerging from an economic downturn. The caustic satire of the nine-time Tony winner was a tart tonic for a nation in need of levity.
Its fourth engagement in the Twin Cities — a two-week run at the Orpheum Theatre — lands in a different environment. The humor in this show about white missionaries in Africa seems a bit like punching down at a time when “s---hole countries” has become part of the public discourse.
The good news is that “Mormon” remains sidesplittingly funny, even if the profanity from the writing team of “South Park” bros Trey Parker and Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” creator Robert Lopez is not as shocking at it once was.
Co-director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s shipshape production, conducted with lightness by musical director Andrew Graham, tells a story of comic opposites: Mormon proselytizers from Utah have been dispatched to convert black brutes in Africa, even as the former deal with homoerotic feelings and the latter confront war, ugly practices and AIDS.
As the odd-couple missionaries, Kevin Clay and Conner Peirson measure up to the stars who originated the roles, Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad, with beautiful voices and great comic timing. Clay plays the straight man with ease. Peirson, in particular, is handsy and antic as his insecure, imaginative character works through his issues.
It’s too bad “Mormon” predates “Hamilton.” I would love to have seen what this show, so replete with pop culture references, would attempt as a takedown of Broadway’s biggest juggernaut. But back in ’11, they had “The Lion King,” and there are two sendups that were spot-on in the touring production: a fake Rafiki send-off of the missionaries at the airport and a blasphemous rejoinder to “Hakuna Matata,” the feel-good, “Don’t Worry” anthem of “Lion King.”
“Mormon” has its own parallel to the simplistic “Hakuna” — “Turn It Off,” a tap-dancing, beautiful number done with tongue planted firmly in cheek. If you are in a difficult situation or have uncomfortable feelings that you don’t have answers to, “turn it off like a light switch. Go click. It’s a cool little Mormon trick.”
It’s an earworm that’s not easily dislodged. And that’s the beauty of this show. While you may get bugged by the way it reinforces stereotypes, you find yourself laughing, taken away by its acidic genius.
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