Produced by: Broadway San Jose
Directed by: Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker
Choreographed by: Casey Nicholaw
Music direction by: Stephen Oremus.
When: July 16-21, 2019
Where: San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 South Almaden Boulevard, San Jose
Tickets: $40 and higher (subject to change). Visit www.broadwaysanjose.com, in-person at the City National Civic Box Office, 150 West San Carlos Street, San Jose), or call 800-982-2787
with 'The Book of Mormon"
“This book will change your life.”
Or so say the Mormon missionaries after they ring our doorbells and flash those sparkly white teeth matching their starched white shirts.
This particular version of “The 3rd book of the Bible” — “The Book of Mormon, which opened a brief run at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts on Wednesday — may not exactly change your life, but it will surely make you laugh out loud for a couple of hours.
Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are just finishing their missionary training for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (“remember, tomorrow is a latter day”).
Elder Price is played by the wonderful Liam Tobin, like a cross between Buzz Lightyear and Jim Carrie, all-American earnestness, white smiles and innocence. “I’m going to do something incredible,” he tells us, because that’s what he’s been told.
Elder Cunningham (a comic Jacob Ben-Shmuel), on the other hand, is more of a follower, as that’s what his father has told him. He makes up stories and bends the truth just a little bit when it suits him. Now, at the end of their training, it is time to learn where their mission will take them. Elder Price is sure he will be sent to Orlando, his dream place.
The assorted trainees are paired up and sent to Norway, France (“pastries and turtlenecks”), and finally Price and Cunningham are paired up and sent to … Uganda.
“Oh, Africa,” says Elder Cunningham. “Like the Lion King!” And off they go.
At this point it is important to note that “The Book of Mormon” was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of “South Park,” plus Robert Lopez. So you know the language is going to be more, shall we say, dirt track than freeway. And so it goes that in a certain part of Africa, we are told, whenever something goes wrong, the people shout “Hasa diga eebowai,” which is definitely not the same as “Hakuna matata.” It loosely translates to “fuck you God,” and it’s downhill from there. Our lily-white Mormon missionaries who have never heard as much as a “damn” before have to open up a whole new section in their personal libraries to fit in all these new swear words. And body parts. Mainly female body parts.
Africa can be a wild place, and the particular village where they have been sent to convert the locals to Christianity via the teachings of Joseph Smith — “the first all-American prophet” — is being terrorized by a gang of thugs led by General ButtFuckingNaked. If the females of the village do not submit to genital mutilation, then the menfolk will be killed. Possibly the women, too. After being raped, that is.
But wait — it’s not all doom and gloom, there are songs. Wonderful, fun songs. The village chief’s daughter, Nabulungi, an excellent Alyah Chanelle Scott, sings about this wonderful place she has heard of from all the Mormon missionaries that have visited over the years. “Sal Tlay Ka Siti, a village in Oo-tah.”
It’s all too much for Elder Price, who tries to leave his partner Elder Cunningham and go back to America and hopefully a transfer to Orlando, his personal paradise.
But clearly his conscience is troubling him, as that night he has the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” A wonderful concoction of biblical brimstone, 20th century murderers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and Adolf Hitler, plus the Devil himself.
The sets, which earned a Tony Award for designer Scott Pask, are exceptional, from the Church of Latter Day Saints, to the Ugandan village, to the fires of hell.
While Elder Price is trying to escape, brave little Elder Cunningham is doing his best to teach Mormonism to the villagers. But he finds that the stories of ancient battles (America 1823) and outdated language are rather losing his audience, so he does what he does best — makes up some stuff. References to “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” and various other embellishments, seem to engage the villagers. So much so that he convinces them that by converting to Mormonism they will find the strength to resist the thugs. Having baptized the whole village, he is of course a hero to the other Mormons, which leads to a visit from the mission president.
Naturally the villagers want to show what they have learned, so they put on a play depicting the story of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, with certain embellishments as told to them by Elder Cunningham. While the mission resident is not impressed with the additional storylines, the villagers have found the courage to stand up to the bad guys, and they are converted. The villagers prove themselves to be a little smarter than the Mormons, as they don’t actually believe the stories, they know they are just parables to illustrate life lessons such as love, service and community.
So Elder Cunningham the follower becomes Elder Cunningham the leader, helping to spread the word of God throughout Africa with his own version of The Book. It could happen.
What a hilarious, fun, silly, irreverent (and scatological) musical show. But it won nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, and the Mormons themselves placed ads in the Broadway programs. Let’s end with one word: MAMA. Make America Mormon Again.