Forget 42nd Street. There’s nothing more naughty, bawdy and gaudy than Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s unapologetically irreverent and utterly hilarious musical The Book of Mormon, skillfully opening the Victoria Theatre Association’s 2019-2020 season at the Schuster Center.
Recipient of the 2011 Tony Award for Best Musical and 2012 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, The Book of Mormon addresses themes of friendship, betrayal, faith, culture clash, oppression, disillusionment, and self-worth centered on the spiritual convictions and mission associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As two polar opposite Mormon missionaries seek to save souls in dire, disease-stricken Uganda, their journey of initial reluctance and overwhelming adversity comically evolves into a greater understanding of their potential and purpose. Charming tunes such as Hello, Two by Two, You and Me (But Mostly Me), Man Up, and I Am Africa set the perfect tone in both brazen humor and profane substance. In particular, Joseph Smith American Moses, a playful spin on The Small House of Uncle Thomas ballet from The King and I excitedly performed by the Ugandan villagers, is truly one of the most shocking, jaw-dropping numbers ever conceived in musical theatre.
Under the wonderfully witty direction of Parker and Casey Nicholaw, this terrific, ensemble-driven tour, featuring Nicholaw’s dandy choreography, is engagingly led by the outstanding duo of Liam Tobin (cool, confident Elder Price) and Jordan Matthew Brown (awkward, compulsive liar Elder Cunningham). Tobin’s spirited determination, chipper smile and demeanor, humorous obsession with Orlando, and superb rendition of I Believe are hallmarks of his charismatic, sunny portrayal. Brown, relishing his embodiment of the showier Cunningham, is fully committed to the slacker mentality inherent in the role as well as the longing for companionship, attention and accountability simmering within it. In strong, funny featured roles, Andy Huntington Jones delights as the closeted Elder McKinley (Turn It Off is a razzle dazzle hoot), the lovely Alyah Chanelle Scott brings winsome spunk to her endearing portrayal of impressionable Nabulungi (Sal Tlay Ka Siti blossoms with hopeful desire), Ron Bohmer is properly authoritative in multiple roles including Joseph Smith and Mission President, Jacques C. Smith is a credible source of reason as Nabulungi’s dad Mafala, and Corey Jones effortlessly intimidates as the General.
Overall, anyone familiar with the audaciousness of Parker and Stone’s South Park and Lopez’s Avenue Q will not be surprised at the level of vulgarity and silly pop culture cheekiness on display. However, if you’re easily offended by crude language, religious mockery or the sight of Jeffrey Dahmer and Adolph Hitler simulating sex acts in hell this simply may not be the show for you.
The Book of Mormon continues through Sept. 1 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton. Performances are 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Act One: 62 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Tickets are $30-$133. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com. For information about the production’s pre-show lottery, visit victoriatheatre.com/shows/book-of-mormon. Also, patrons are advised the show contains strong adult content and language.