“Africa is not like ‘The Lion King,’ ” Elder Kevin Price realizes half way into his mission, just like Orlando, Fla., is not like Disney World, and “The Book of Mormon” is not like the Mormon faith. The play is, however, one brilliant musical.
The joyously raunchy, peppy production of “The Book of Mormon” wowed a sold-out audience at the Morrison Center on Wednesday night.
The company is in Boise for a sold-out eight-show run, and it’s worth the effort to queue up for the lottery to get a ticket to see this wonderful show. (See accompanying box for information.)
From the creators of “South Park” and “Avenue Q,” this show is a nearly perfect musical that combines song, dance and Mormonism to delight, entertain and shock. (Yes, there are more than a few “Did-they-really-just-say-that?” moments.)
The show is also a love letter to the American musical genre and sends up a bevy of Broadway tropes and themes from “The Sound of Music,” “Wicked,” “Little Mermaid,” “Annie” and a dozen others.
“The Book of Mormon” is one of the most tuneful shows written in the past decade, with catchy songs that you will sing as you leave the theater. The show’s got everything: a killer tap number, rich and rangy ballads, heartfelt anthems and a wacky storyline, at the center of which is a sweet tale of friendship, purpose and humanity.
It’s also got some of the wittiest, funniest dialogue. Thankfully, the sound guys kept the volume high enough so you could hear the words over the nearly nonstop laughter.
The play follows the journey of two Mormon missionaries who hope for an assignment in Orlando but end up in northern Uganda, where the people genuinely do need help. In this world, the Africans they meet are equally cheery despite dealing with poverty, AIDS and oppression.
The real fuel in this engine is the amazingly talented cast that performs it with an infectious enthusiasm.
Triple-threat Billy Harrigan Tighe is a nearly perfect Kevin Price, a Mormon missionary who seeks to do something “incredible” but loses his way in Africa. His vocals soared on his uber-earnest anthem “I Believe,” and the guy can really tap and flip.
A.J. Holmes, as his odd-couple mission companion Arnold Cunningham, was the superstar of the night, with an endearingly geeky physicality. A more exuberant Napoleon Dynamite, he has wonderful vocal skills that take him through a melange of pop styles from Neil Diamond to Springsteen.
Alexandra Ncube is an angelic Nabulungi, the young Ugandan woman who falls for Cunningham and the church. Her voice is nearly perfect as it flexibly embraces the huge range in “Sal Tlay Ka Siti,” her dream of paradise.
Brian Beach’s gay-leaning Elder McKinley is a highlight throughout the show. And there were wonderfully rich character bits throughout from this talented ensemble.
Scott Pask’s set design and Brian MacDevitt’s lighting make for seamless transitions — with turning doorways that lead to new locations, beautiful backdrops that take you to a sparkling Salt Lake City and even to a spooky Mormon hell. Ann Roth’s costumes run the gamut from crisp to flowing, and managed to facilitate one of the fastest changes ever. How did the characters get those pink vests on in the dark?
Some people might be offended by the profanity, and there is a lot of it, as well as the sexual innuendo and the neat butchering of the Mormon stories. But that’s the magic of musical theater that writers Matt Stone and Trey Parker and composer Robert Lopez know: You can get away with almost anything, as long as you leave ’em laughing.