Know before reading—this review includes extremely adult language.
By Barry Reszel
Broadway in Chicago’s third go-around with the South Park guys’ over-the-top send up to religion, generally, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, specifically, is as crass, cringe-worthy and hilarious as ever.
Much of the cast of this most-hyped show of the decade (pre-Hamilton, that is) is in tact from its last visit to the Windy City, and the three leads are splendid. Ryan Bondy is perfectly cloying and white-toothed as Elder Price, the poster child for Mormon young men everywhere. But his two co-stars truly steal this show.
Cody Jamison Strand as short, tubby and whiny Elder Cunningham is simply hysterical. Taking up the role that made Josh Gad a household name among musical theatre fans, Strand puts his own mark on the production with his strong comedic timing, mannerisms and overall acting ability. And the gorgeous Candace Quarrels as Ugandan villager Nabulungi (or Nala or Neosporin) is sweet, stunning and superb.
For those who have not yet trekked through Tony Parker‘s, Robert Lopez‘s and Matt Stone‘s Mormon mission as told throught their all-everything book, music and lyrics, the story centers on the two young Mormon men sent for two years to Uganda (not Orlando), charged with bringing the village natives there into the church. A full plot summary and production history may be read here.
Newbies and BoM returnees should be confident that this cast of 2011’s nine-time Tony Award-winning production (including Best Musical) delivers everything the major theatre critics laud the show for, including delivery of some great musical theatre numbers, “Hello,” “Two by Two,” “I Believe,” “Turn it Off,” “Sal Tlay Ka Siti,” “You and Me,” and “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” among others in the exceptionally rich comic songbook.
The Book of Mormon is still running strong in its resident home at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on the Great White Way and in the Prince of Wales Theatre on the West End, where it earned four 2014 Olivier Awards for its London staging.
The national critic Broadwayphiles typically turn to, the New York Times‘ Ben Brantley, called BoM, “The best musical of this century.” And our Chicago Tribune‘s Chris Jones, who hands out four stars about as often as the Cubs play in October, does so regularly for this show, calling it a “masterful musical.”
These are intriguing accolades from publications that wouldn’t consider publishing a healthy chunk of the show’s dialogue or lyrics.
For patrons not already in the know, the Elders Price and Cunningham’s jaunt to Uganda has them encounter a population where 80 percent have AIDS, and warlord General Butt-Fucking Naked is on the rampage requiring female genital mutilation (or, as sung, “Many young girls here get circumcised. Their clits get cut right off”). The natives sing, “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” (translated, “Fuck you, God”) with this chorus:
“Fuck you God in the ass, mouth, And cunt-a
Fuck you God in the ass, mouth, And cunt-a
Fuck you God in the ass, mouth and cunt-a
Fuck you in the eye!”
After which, Elder Cunningham bastardizes his religion (and really, religion overall) by making up stories that fit what these Ugandans want to hear. He tells them God’s love and the promise of paradise applies to them, too, and that scripture says Joseph Smith decreed having sex with frogs, not babies (their current practice) would cure their AIDS.
Admittedly funny, shock-value satire, to be sure. And effective to the point of the Broadway production alone grossing nearly a half billion dollars in a tad more than five years (see breakdown here).
But what does this kind of uber-success attached to something so blatantly crass say about our society? While, perhaps, no single topic should be off limits to comedic self reflection, isn’t it fair to ponder whether the topics and language found in this Book of Mormon contribute to a culture tolerant—supportive even—
of any insult,
toward any group,
for any reason,
Even by a candidate for President of the United States?
Alas, tomorrow is a latter day.
Broadway in Chicago presents “The Book of Mormon” at The PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe Street, Chicago, through August 14. More information and tickets ($45 – $120) are available here. BoM publicity photos by Joan Marcus.