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'I Believe' in 'The Book of Mormon'

"The Book of Mormon" is at the Wharton Center through June 15th, 2014.

'I Believe' in 'The Book of Mormon'

By Stefanie Pohl. CREATED Jun 11, 2014

I can't believe what I just saw, or heard! And I believe that I haven't laughed this much in a long time. 

When you group together the minds behind "South Park" and "Avenue Q," what more could one expect from the uproarious and belly laugh-inducing satire "The Book of Mormon"?

Winner of nine Tony Awards in 2011 including Best Musical, "The Book of Mormon" is the hotly-anticipated finale to the Wharton Center's 2013-14 Broadway Series season, playing to nearly sold-out crowds through June 15th. 

Be warned: this show tap dances all over the line. From Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez comes two hours of explicit language, widespread generalizations, and a "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" sequence featuring a ghostly Adolf Hitler, Johnnie Cochran, and Jeffrey Dahmer. 

But in the same way an audience at "The Producers" takes such strange delight in watching "Springtime for Hitler" come to fruition, "The Book of Mormon" lets us laugh at the absurdly inappropriate and teaches us to understand the things -- and people -- we sometimes try to ignore. 

"The Book of Mormon" follows the ambitious Elder Kevin Price and self-proclaimed follower Elder Arnold Cunningham on their first mission to Uganda. Expecting a world much like Disney showed in "The Lion King," Elder Price and Elder Cunningham get a rude awakening when the villagers cope with the trials of life by cursing God in their own "Hakuna Matata"-but-the-complete-opposite kind of way. 

Elder Price, played with squeaky-clean perfection by Mark Evans, feels defeated and longs for the beautiful land of Orlando to complete his mission.

But through some white lies involving Darth Vader, the Starship Enterprise, and some unfortunate frogs, Elder Cunningham finds a way to connect with the villagers and get them interested in becoming Mormons. 

As Elder Cunningham, Christopher John O'Neill has a Jonah Hill-like quality, self-deprecating and sweetly optimistic. From his soft-voiced lullaby "I Am Here for You" to the confident "Man Up" and double entendre-filled "Baptize Me," O'Neill's character goes through as many changes as the people of the Ugandan village. 

Alexandra Ncube plays Nabulungi (or was it Neosporin, Nicoderm CQ, or Neil Patrick Harris?), a young woman in the village who wishes for something better. Her solo "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" is a comical play on the quintessential ballad often featured in musicals, with Nabulungi longing for the paradise of Salt Lake City. 

For me, the Mormon Boys and Missionaries steal the show, with that gleam in their eyes as they stare into the spotlight. Those stiff white shirts and black ties seem out of place when paired with the tap dancing and jazz fingers of a Broadway number like "Turn It Off," but in the best way possible. 

It's those unlikely pairings -- Elder Price with Elder Cunningham, Trey Parker and Matt Stone with musicals, that indescribable show within a show in the second act playing out on a Broadway stage -- that makes "The Book of Mormon" so deliciously inappropriate and fun.

In a year that brought us a Starcatcher, a Ghost, and the strains of Gershwin, the Wharton Center is leaving us all on a heavenly high note with "The Book of Mormon."

 


"The Book of Mormon" is playing at the Wharton Center through June 15th, 2014. Tickets are nearly sold out for the remaining performances. Get details here