As the young missionaries at the center of The Book of Mormon arrive at their African destination, they are horrified by the poverty, violence, and squalor that surround them. They can't even go through their regular doorbell-ringing routine, because the rough shacks around them don't have anything like that to push.
Joan Marcus, 2013
Mormon missionaries take on African warlords:
Mark Evans and Derrick Williams
The Book of MormonOrpheum Theatre910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis800.982.2787; through Feb. 17
So after the pair are robbed by the local militia, the locals pep them up with a bouncy tune called "Hasa Diga Eebowai." It sounds like something you would hear in any American musical — a rousing number to make everyone happy. Except in this case, the title translates to "Fuck you, God."
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with a creative assist from Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez, The Book of Mormon has been a tremendous success, creatively and commercially, on Broadway. The first national tour is now in a two-week run in Minneapolis, and all of the profane charm of the original remains.
If you've watched an episode of their show, you know Parker and Stone's sensibility. They don't take any prisoners with their humor, making fun of every target they find. And they hit those targets pretty squarely.
The musical follows two young missionaries, Price and Cunningham, who leave the safety of Salt Lake City for Uganda. There they find a village ravaged by AIDS, riddled with poverty, and terrorized by a warlord who goes by the name General Butt-Fucking Naked.
Of the two, Price is the golden child, ready to save souls for the church, but it is Cunningham who wins over the villagers (along with a ham-fisted interpretation of his religion's key text that includes characters from Star Wars and Star Trek and unnatural acts with a frog; you can pick which one is the most disturbing).
While Parker, Stone, and Lopez take this pretty deep, they also have things to say about faith and finding something beyond yourself to believe in in the face of life's horrors. The religion that Cunningham spins from half-remembered Bible lessons fits the natives' world in a way that gives them a taste of hope.
The touring company has a strong one-two punch in Mark Evans as Elder Price and Christopher John O'Neill as Elder Cunningham. Evans is a classic musical leading man, with a sharp jaw and bright stage presence that matches his character perfectly. O'Neill comes from a comedy background and provides an anarchistic, outsider energy that also works well (though he needs to work a bit on his singing when he's alone onstage).
Samantha Marie Ware is also good as Mafala Hatimbi, a young villager who dreams of a better world. The entire ensemble brings the spirit of Broadway, even if it is served with a considerable twist. The dancing and singing are sharp, even when musical traditions are as much the target as missionaries and African warlords. Check your sensitivities at the door and be ready for a special experience.