You don’t need me to tell you this, but The Book of Mormon
is wildly fun, gleefully raunchy and surprisingly touching. Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park
with Robert Lopez (composer of puppet musical Avenue Q
), the show has been a phenomenon since it opened on Broadway in March 2011, and securing tickets has become more difficult than bringing Jews into the fold. Portland marks the fourth stop on the show’s national tour, and the short run—eight performances over six days—sold out in minutes back in October. If you’re one of the favored few, consider skipping this list of my top-five moments (see my number-one item for why), but if you’re in the unlucky masses, dab your tears and read on.
1. Going into the show blind
I had, of course, some familiarity with The Book of Mormon, but I’d heard neither the songs nor the jokes and had only a passing knowledge of the plot (two young Mormon missionaries find themselves stationed in Uganda; hijinks ensue). From the missionaries’ first pearly grins, to the trenchant songs about emotional repression, to the button-pushing humor about AIDS, God and race (“she is such a hot shade of black,” Elder Cunningham squeals), each absurd line or bit of choreographic flair was a sharp spear into my uninitiated consciousness.
2. Samantha Marie Ware as Nabulungi
As the Ugandan village girl Nabulungi, Ware channels both naive idealism and steely determination, shot with plenty of saucy humor. Her “Baptize Me” duet with Chris O’Neill’s Elder Cunningham milks its innuendo for all it’s worth, and her soaring voice in “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” (that would be the capital of Utah) conveys earnestness as well as grit. Elder Cunningham’s repeated butchering of her name—she evolves from Jon Bon Jovi to Nabajamba to Neosporin to Neutrogena—was sharp and delightful.
3. “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”
From start to finish, this musical number is a roiling phantasmagoria of devils, donuts, simulated anal sex and giant Starbucks cups. The scene has been criticized for mangling Mormon beliefs in a three-tiered hierarchy of heaven, but it’s so jaw-droppingly over the top—Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer all make cameo appearances—that this argument seems beside the point.
4. In the words of one of the Ugandan villagers: “Salt Lake City isn’t an actual place. It’s an idea, a metaphor.”
This line, for whatever reason, slayed the Keller on Wednesday evening. None of the potty humor (“I’ve got maggots in my scrotum”) or religious riffs (“In 1978, God changed his mind about black people”) prompted such giant laughs. The ensemble member’s staccato delivery was spot-on, but what else about this line tapped our Portland pulse? Were we congratulating ourselves on our cleverness, having already figured out the grand symbolism? All I know is that the cast seemed slightly surprised by our outsize response, which momentarily halted the show.
5. The show’s genius blend of cheeky irreverence toward its subject matter and its reverential fondness for musical theater traditions
The Book of Mormon manages to be both obscene and earnest: It blasphemes Joseph Smith’s teachings with wide eyes and even wider grins, clearly paying tribute to Broadway’s showy brand of schtick. It’s tongue-in-cheek but never in an insider-y way, making it accessible and appealing to both musical theater buffs and those unschooled in its traditions. Tempering sacrilegiousness and obscenity with bouncy choreography and fresh-faced eagerness, The Book of Mormon may make believers out of even the most averse.
GO: The Book of Mormon is at the Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 248-4335. 7:30 pm Friday, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday, 1 and 6:30 pm Sunday, Jan. 4-6. All shows are sold out, but there will be a pre-show lottery for 20 tickets at $25 each. Entries will be collected at the Keller two and a half hours before each performance, with the random drawing taking place two hours before. Winners can buy one or two tickets.