Two years ago, when I saw the national touring company production of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s outrageous trail-blazing musical, “The Book of Mormon,” at the Boston Opera House, I thought it was a puerile plot to show how gauche live theater could get, yet be rewarded with plaudits and applause. The Broadway production had won nine Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards, the 2011 Grammy Award, four Outer Critics Circle Awards, the Drama League award for Best Musical, and others.
The play excelled in toilet humor, potty mouth dialogue, and satiric pokes at religious proselytization gone wrong in third world nations. The satire was fun, but the sensationalism and crudeness went overboard, dividing theatergoers and raising sharp criticism, yet a landslide of superlatives from the younger, hip set. Flash forward to the Colonial Theatre today, where “The Book of Mormon” has returned to our fair city through Oct. 11.
This production also boasts Tony Award winner Scott Pask’s fantastic sets, from biblical and ethereal, to the depths of hell, and in-between; award winner Brian MacDevitt’s battery of bombastic lighting; Casey Nicholaw’s terrifically energetic choreography, coupled with his taut co-direction with writer Trey Parker’s; award winner Brian Ronan’s sound effects, from ringing doorbells to bell chimes, jungle revolutionaries’ gunfire, and Hell’s fury; and the award-winning orchestration of Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus. Ann Roth’s costumes, from the Mormon’s signature white shirts, black pants and ties, poverty-stricken Congo native garb, and the (expletive-deleted) general’s wacky, military get-up, add caricaturish color here.
Sure, the actors are dropping f-bombs like a World War II battle scene. Yes, there’s sexual double entendre and blatant sexuality in this farcical take on the fresh-faced, ardent Church of Latter Day Saints postulants, who go into the world, after a few months’ training, to spread the word of Jesus and Good Book of their leader, Joseph Smith.
I bet you didn’t know Jesus walked among believers and heathens in America, advising the Mormons to go west.
The results are still in-your-face satire, but less offensive and more hilarious, thanks to some trimming and a fantastic cast. Baby-faced,voice-cracking, chunky Cody Jamison Strand is hysterical portraying Elder Arnold Cunningham. He’s the spiritual partner nobody wants, because he (gasp!) lies, makes up stories and is a social misfit. Strand’s spontaneous performance combusts with energy and likability, creating laughter in every scene.
Portraying Cunningham’s “perfect,” egocentric, 19-year-old partner, Elder Price, David Larsen lets loose his marvelous voice, especially in solos, “I Believe,” and “Orlando,” where he hopes to be sent to spread the word, but ends up instead in a poverty- and disease stricken shantytown in Uganda. Price hopes to make the best of it as he and Cunningham musically avow their partnership, in “You and Me (But Mostly Me)”. The duo receive a rousing welcome from the natives, in an expletive-riddled, non-translatable greeting, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” shocking these new recruits.
Luckily, they find a pretty, willing candidate, Nabulungi, who’s hoping they’ll deliver her to a new life, in ethereal Salt Lake City. Candace Quarrels portrays Nabulungi with charming naivete. Her voice is sweet, yet powerful, in her solos. Her double-entendre-laden duet with Cunningham, “Baptize Me,” is priceless. The missionary companions also learn a lot about their fervent, fellow missionaries during their individual introductions.
When Price abandons his cause, Cunningham, (who never read the Good Book, but overdoses on Star Wars), “Man(s) Up,” in his empowering number, converting the natives like crazy with his sensational stories.
In gratitude, knowing the boys’ superiors are coming to judge their progress, the natives stage an innocent, mind-boggling retelling of the Good Book’s teaching, creating hilarious pandemonium.
Of course the story has a villain, whose name and actions are unprintable here. The ruthless, military revolutionary marauder, the General, stands tall in his ridiculous yellow cowboy boots, thundering and roaring around. Marcus Terrell Smith was terrific in this performance. He replaced David Aron Damane, who usually appears in this role.
As Elder Price sinks into depression and abandons the fold, he is tormented in fiery, fantasy number, “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”. Captured by the general and tortured in an unspeakable manner, the humbled Price later returns to his followers, leading a super-duper finale,“Tomorrow is a Latter Day” - and more.
BOX INFO: Two-act, multi-award winning musical, book, music, lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, appearing through Oct. 11, at the Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre, Boylston St., Boston. Performances, Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2,8 p.m.; Sunday, 1,6 p.m. Tickets start at $34. Call Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787, visit, the Citi Performning Arts Center Wang Theatre Box Office, 270 Tremont St., Boston.