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'Book of Mormon' Loud and Vulgar

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, lampoon all hypocrisies, religious and otherwise, equally. South Park's jabs at Scientology, Catholicism, and Islam -- only the last one has actually led to censorship of the show -- are not for the faint of heart, sensitively minded, or easily offended, but they are all funny. Their musical The Book of Mormon, produced with Robert Lopez, takes aim at the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints with deadly accuracy. Now on its third U.S. tour, which will reportedly take the show to Salt Lake City for the first time, The Book of Mormon is back at the Kennedy Center Opera House, where we finally saw it on Thursday evening.

The story follows a pair of Mormon missionaries, as they are trained in Utah and sent to convert the people of a war-torn village in Uganda. Elder Price, played by David Larsen with a Teflon smile, is the perfect Mormon boy, but his faith is shaken when his prayer to be sent to his favorite place in the world, Orlando, is not granted. He is paired up with Cody Jamison Strand's Elder Cunningham, a misfit who has not even read the Book of Mormon and is something of a pathological liar, and they set off for Africa full of pep and Mormon good manners. Along the way, they learn about the local catchphrase that makes life easier ("Hasa diga eebowai," the Disney Lion King send-up embedded above, which I do not recommend clicking on if you are at work), and meet the local band of fellow missionaries, who have managed to baptize not a single convert.

Other Reviews:

Ben Brantley, A New Set of Believers, but the Same Peppy Faith (New York Times, August 20, 2014)

Peter Marks, Review of Broadway’s ‘The Book of Mormon’ (Washington Post, March 24, 2011)
As in South Park's vivisection of Scientology, the best jokes are all simply statements of Mormonism's actual beliefs: Joseph Smith and the disappearing golden plates, Starbucks coffee cups that dance across the "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" number, and the line "I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people." The LDS Church, which takes it all squarely on the chin, has not raised much of a fuss, even taking the opportunity to pass out copies of the actual Book of Mormon at some performances. An LDS-sponsored advertisement for the Book of Mormon in the Kennedy Center Playbill features a smiling black face with the words, "You've seen the play... Now read the book." Anyone who takes up the offer will find that the book is pretty much how it is depicted in the musical.

This production runs through August 16, at the Kennedy Center Opera House. My usual complaints about amplification are more pronounced in this case, because the volume level, for someone who is just not used to it, was too painful for my ears. Amplification ruins the theatrical experience, too, because one has no sense of the location of the person speaking or singing, distancing the viewer from the actors.

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