Dallas — With a show like The Book of Mormon, now playing through Dec. 31 as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Broadway Series at the Winspear Opera House, one has to wonder how many people in the audience are properly prepared for the work of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the sharp but twisted minds behind Mormon as well as the subversive Comedy Central cartoon South Park.
Those that know a little about the duo’s past work can brace themselves, but for theatergoers who walk into the rollicking production blind…well, they’re in for quite the ride. The Book of Mormon, directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, is a show that pairs its heart and genuine message with biting wit, lots of tongue-in-cheek references, and songs that will make you sit up in your seat wondering, “Did they just say what I think they said?”
Trust me—they did.
Mormon’s cheekiness is part and parcel of its charm, and nothing and no one is safe from being mocked soundly. It’s the story of two missionaries who are sent to Uganda to bring people into the church: Elder Price (earnestly played by Gabe Gibbs), a perfect missionary specimen convinced he’s there to change the world, and Elder Cunningham (in a perfectly awkward portrayal by Cody Jamison Strand), a socially inept but well-meaning schlub content to bask in the glory of his partner.
Gibbs and Strand are the perfect odd couple—especially when compared to the lineup of background Mormon twosomes who look like they all popped out of the same mold—and they use that to great advantage. Gibbs makes Elder Price’s slow slide into doubt humorous yet still realistic and sympathetic, and Strand…well, once the script flips, he gets equal parts more ridiculous and more human as the show goes on. Thanks to his utter commitment to the role and his solid comedic timing, the audience eats up every silly moment.
The supporting cast is equally strong. Candice Quarrels’ beautiful voice soars in her national tour debut as Nabulungi, the daughter of Ugandan chief Mafala Hatimbi (Sterling Jarvis) who yearns for a better life in the Mormon paradise of Salt Lake City. And Daxton Bloomquist is fabulous as Elder McKinley, a closeted gay missionary who claims he can just ignore his desires, bad thoughts, or doubts in “Turn it Off,” one of the best numbers in the show—truly, who doesn’t love a group of handsome men tap dancing?
Other standouts include Oge Agulué’s frighteningly funny General, cutting an imposing figure on stage with his band of mercenaries, and Johnny Brantley III’s Doctor, an ensemble role that was an audience favorite. The ensemble is truly the backbone of this show, adding much in the small moments to flesh out the story and give it life. And it’s clear they’re having a blast with the farcical fun of this production.
Possibly the best part of the show, other than its surprisingly catchy music, is the wonderful choreography by co-director Nicholaw. Every number is sharp and exuberant, from the pairing off of the missionaries in “Two by Two” to the energetic African dance in “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” Having such well-conceived dance numbers brings the Broadway polish that elevates the show in a surprising and enjoyable way.
To say much more about The Book of Mormon would be to give away its best secrets to those who have not yet been indoctrinated, so let’s leave it at this: It’s a hilarious sendup of all the things normally kept out of polite conversation, and highly recommended for those not easily offended.