Genuine hilarity abounds within Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez’s masterfully irreverent, jaw-dropping, unabashedly vulgar, and delightfully tuneful musical “The Book of Mormon,” the 2011 Tony Award winner for Best Musical currently having an outstanding local premiere at the Schuster Center as a special Star Attractions courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association.
Primarily taking direct and often startling jabs at the formation and followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Parker and Stone (the naughty provocateurs behind the wit and popularity of “South Park”) with astute aid from Lopez (who brought raunchiness back to the Great White Way with gusto thanks to his co-creation of “Avenue Q”) fashion a bold, no-holds-barred satiric universe rarely attempted in the world of commercial musical theater. As the Mormon faith is dissected with humorous, eye-opening bluntness, these revelatory collaborators, knowing full well that Mormon skewing would be entirely one-dimensional, skillfully expand the storytelling at hand by spoofing everything from pop culture and musical theater conventions to African stereotypes and Jeffrey Dahmer’s salaciousness. Even so, the central relationship between two young missionaries sent to spread their faith to a Ugandan village remains sharply focused and meaningful as themes of friendship, courage, perseverance, and self-discovery resonate with absurdity and heart under the vibrant, fast paced co-direction of Parker and Casey Nicholaw.
David Larsen and Cody Jamison Strand are exceptionally and respectively paired as the bubbly, optimistic Elder Price and his simple sidekick Elder Cunningham. Larsen, terrifically chipper and believably wholesome, and Strand, goofy and grounded, perfectly capture the oddity and unease of polar opposites thrust into an atmosphere beyond their imagination heightened by a despicable warlord, female circumcision, infant rape, and AIDS. Strand’s portrayal is showier due to the juiciness of his material, but Larsen’s charm, vulnerability and strong tenor (particularly showcased in his knockout rendition of Act 2 anthem “I Believe”) ensures balance. This dynamic duo is tremendously supported by an assortment of first-rate featured players specifically the radiantly sweet Candace Quarrels as sensitive, impressionable villager Nabulungi, the energetic and flamboyant Daxton Bloomquist as closeted Elder McKinley (“Turn it Off,” his Mormon ode to suppressed feelings, is an absolute razzle dazzle hoot), Marcus Terrell Smith as Nabulungi’s amiable father/village prefect Mafala, and the wonderfully intimidating David Aron Damane as the evil General.
In addition, Nicholaw’s fantastically clever choreography utilizes the same kind of funny, character-infused movement seen in his sprightly routines for “Monty Python’s Spamalot” and “Something Rotten!” The shockingly joyful “Hasa Diga Eebowai” and “Joseph Smith American Moses” as well as the phenomenally conceived “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” are three of the most creative moments you will ever see in a contemporary musical. The production is also greatly accented by Scott Pask’s striking sets depicting Salt Lake City, Orlando and Uganda, Ann Roth’s imaginative Ugandan costumes, Brian MacDevitt’s evocative lighting, and music director David Truskinoff’s firm, full orchestra including six local musicians.
“The Book of Mormon” isn’t for the easily offended, but if you’re simply looking to be entertained to the hilt you cannot let your weekend pass by without seeing this one-of-a-kind, Broadway-caliber experience.
“The Book of Mormon” continues through August 23 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. The production is performed in 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission. Tickets are $43-$132. Patrons are advised the show contains strong adult language. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com.