Thursday, November 28, 2013

Book of Mormon Debuts at Broward Center


A Rollicking “Book of Mormon” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Who knew Mormons were such fun?
Evidently Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez saw the inherent comic potential in America’s unique Church of the Latter Day Saints sect.
“The Book of Mormon” is onstage through Dec. 22 at Broward Center for the Arts. It is hilarious, irreverent, audacious, and one of the most entertaining Broadway shows of all time. This national touring company is absolutely first-rate.
Just about everyone has encountered those polite, clean-cut, usually Caucasian young men who knock at doors and try to entice whoever will listen to the wonders of the Book of Mormon.
Even the most devout Mormon will have to admit their religion is different. For one thing, they believe a resurrected Jesus Christ came to America in the 19th century and paid a personal visit to one Joseph Smith in upstate New York. Before that, in 1827 an angel named Moroni allegedly appeared to Smith with golden plates inscribed by ancient prophets who lived in the Americas from 2200 B.C. to 421 A.D.
There is a lot more to Mormonism than this, but Parker and Stone, creators of “South Park” and Lopez, writer-composer of “Avenue Q,” saw the gag potential in the unorthodox beliefs of Mormons as well as their penchant for spreading their gospel through “Elders,” who are actually young men from teen age to early 20s. The setup is two mismatched naïve elders who much to their surprise, are dispatched to Uganda in darkest Africa rather than stateside duty.
On the surface Elder Kevin Price (Mark Evans) is the ideal Mormon: good-looking, tall and self-assured. His partner Elder Arnold Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill, remember his name from “Happy Days”) is the opposite: short, chubby, and functionally illiterate to the minutiae of the Mormon faith. On the plus side Arnold has a quite a creative imagination.
The lads launch the show with the catchy ditty “Hello,” joined by other young Mormons already in Uganda.
Upon their arrival, the lads are robbed of their possessions by soldiers of a character we can’t name in a family newspaper, but is inspired by the real, bloodthirsty man known as General Butt Naked.
After their introduction to a bemused chief Mafala Hatimbi (Stanley Wayne Mathis), the boys are treated to a litany of woes: poverty, famine, AIDS and the cruel practice of female circumcision.
How can a funny musical be constructed around such serious subjects, you may wonder. The answer is the attitude of the natives, expressed in the fatalistic song “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” whose translation cannot be printed verbatim. Suffice it to say the natives are a tough, feisty lot who have a strong, black sense of humor.
Principal among the Africans is the chief’s daughter, Princess Nabulungi, played by the radiant, irresistible Samantha Marie Ware.
A side plot of sorts is provided by the ever-smiling Elder McKinley (Grey Henson), who fights “unnatural” sexual tendencies. Henson does double duty as the Angel Moroni.
There are many more fun things about the show: guys in drag playing the female parts, “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” with precision choreography and hook-laden songs played with gusto by a small pit orchestra. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing along with the Mormon theme song, “We Are Africa!”

Tickets are $44.50-$154.50 and may be reserved by calling 954-462-0222 or going to

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