BY SANDY STAGGS
BY SANDY STAGGS
Warning: Spoilers & mature language in this review.
It’s not often I, as a theatre critic, have the opportunity to use foul language in my reviews. So I take particular pride in writing, or repeating, some lyrics from “The Book of Mormon” making its Greenville stop again on its national tour.
When bad things happen to you, “Raise your middle finger to the sky and shout ‘Fuck you, God!’ ’’ Though it does sound more benevolent if not downright sacrosanct with platitudes, (like “Don’t Worry, Be Happy),” when it is sung in its native African tongue as “Hasa Diga Eebowai.”
“Maggots in my scrotum,” no matter how many times is repeated, never gets lost in translation. And the local warlord General Butt-Fucking Naked (Corey Jones in this production). The total desecration of every facet of the Mormon Church with its dubious founding and controversial familial structures.
You have seen them in Spartanburg and Greenville. Two by two, in black slacks, white short-sleeve shirts and nametags. Lily-white, apple pie all-American boys that bicycle or walk through our neighborhoods knocking on doors and earnestly touting the gospel of Jesus and armed with only a smile and the “Book of Mormon.”
“The Book of Mormon” was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “South Park” fame and Robert Lopez, co-creator of “Avenue Q.” So the humor is juvenile at times, but always with razor sharp sarcasm and satire, even if it goes too far by most standards.
This fresh, non-stop ride of laughs, insane humor, and religious rows, may always be crass, but it also certainly genuine and sincere and borne of well-placed and well-played cynicism.
I must remind you “The Book of Mormon” won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Direction (Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker), Best Featured Actress (Nikki M. James), Best Scenic Design (Scott Pask), Best Lighting Design (Brian MacDevitt), Best Sound Design (Brian Ronan) and Best Orchestrations (Larry Hochman, Stephen Oremus).
The story follows two Mormon young men as they embark on their mandatory two-year mission to spread the word in exotic locales such as Japan, France, Norway or Greenville.
But idealistic Elder Price, a dynamite Liam Tobin, (his “I Believe” is definitely a pinnacle of the evening), is dispatched, not to a cool place like Orlando, but Uganda, like “The Lion King.” Sure.
To make matters worse, his 24-hour fellow soldier of the army of the Church of Latter Day Saints is Elder Cunningham (the effervescent and hyper-active clown Conner Peirson), the social outcast whose knack for improv storytelling and need for acceptance overshadows his faith.
The duo joins an outpost of missionaries with zero success in converting the natives who are more concerned with real-life dilemmas like war, poverty, famine, and the local aforementioned warlord. This ebullient ensemble performs “Hasa Diga Eebowai” because of tragedies like drought, starvation, rampant AIDS, female circumcision and the empty promise of salvation by these white men.
And oh, the insane, inane songs: The incredible opening number Hello” that starts with Elder Price ringing a doorbell, escalating into a crescendo of elders, a cacophony of witnessing and a succession of doors and doorbell sound effects as percussion instruments. The entire cast plastered with faces of eternal sunshine, smiles of indoctrination and blind faith.
There’s the hilarious “Turn It Off” with the cheesiest choreography (by Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw who directs this musical with Parker) as the elders share their cool little Mormon trick, a technique for turning off any emotion or (gay) desire like a light switch.
Peirson is magnanimous and dutifully exhausting in his ripe rock anthem “Man Up” and his hysterical twisting of the Mormon scripture with lies and “Lord of the Rings” mythology.
Kayla Pecchioni shines brightly as Nabulungi in a dexterous and sympathetic role as village liaison singing “Sal Tlay Ka Siti,” (Salt Lake City), a paean to the American dream and culture including “E.T.”
The Ugandan version of the Mormon origin story is side-splitting as are the tableaus (shroud behind scrims) of the All-American prophet Joseph Smith, his Vision, the third part of the Bible, the mysterious Golden Plates, Jesus and even Brigham Young.
“The Book of Mormon” continues through Sunday, March 10 at the Peace Center, 300 S. Main Street in Downtown Greenville. For tickets, visit www.peacecenter.org or call (864) 467-3000.
There is also a daily lottery for $25 tickets. Entries will be accepted in the Peace Concert Hall lobby beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance; each person will print their name and the number of tickets (1 or 2) they wish to purchase on a card that is provided. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of tickets priced at $25 each. Only one entry is allowed per person. Cards are checked for duplication prior to drawing. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets. Limit one entry per person and two tickets per winner. Tickets are subject to availability.