Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.12.43 PMBy Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Having conquered Atlanta in 2014, Broadway’s smash hit “The Book of Mormon” is back to pack the Fox again. It’s a spectacular, relentless, scintillating entertainment. The national tour is sponsored here by the Broadway in Atlanta series; it will run through Jan. 24.

Winner of nine 2011 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Vogue Magazine called the show “the filthiest, most offensive, and—surprise—sweetest thing you’ll see on Broadway this year, and quite possibly the funniest musical ever.” TV’s Jon Stewart said, “It’s so good it makes me angry.”

What could justify the torrent of praise and awards this show has received? Let’s see: It’s a delirious mishmash of opposites. “Mormon” satirizes organized religion (not just the Mormon Church) and its rules but not the people who practice it. It pokes fun at the American musical even as it glorifies it. It explores the dichotomy of faith and doubt. But mainly it just makes you laugh.

Co-creator Trey Parker says, “We knew from the first reading that the show lived at the intersection between a Broadway musical and a religious experience.” The Mormon Church itself has given tacit approval of the show; it even takes out program ads which say things like, “Read the Book first.”

Now be advised: The theatre ticket doesn’t say “Parental Advisory: Explicit Language” for nothing. But for this viewer and the great majority of the sold-out audience, the spirit of fun and humanity of the piece easily supersedes any qualms about language.

Two young men, Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) and Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand) are sent out on their two-year mission. Elder Price hopes it will be his favorite spot on earth: Orlando—Disneyworld! But no, it’s Uganda, Africa. Oops. Neither was expecting that. Elder Price keeps up his indomitable enthusiasm, while the goofy Elder Cunningham has yet to even read the Book. Another oops. And he makes things up, to help people. Isn’t that the essence of true religion?

They soon find themselves in a remote village where famine, poverty, and AIDS run rampant. The villagers, even the lovely Nabulungi (Candace Quarrels), are not in the mood to be taught some strange religion. What are our young Elders to do, and how on earth do you make a musical comedy from such a situation?

That is the genius of “The Book of Mormon” and its creators: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. They wrote the book, music, and lyrics. You may recognize their names: Does “South Park” and “Avenue Q” (Lopez) ring any bells?

The brilliant choreography is by Casey Nicholaw, who also directed, along with Mr. Parker. The cast is full of standouts, too numerous to mention. The three leads are wonderful, although Mr. Strand’s comic/squeaky voice (which he employs at times) is a bit much. I would like to give a shout out to homegrown Jevares Myrick, a graduate of Pebblebrook High School in Marietta. He’s making his dreams come true.

For some reason, known only to the theatre gods, I was less impressed by “Mormon” this time; perhaps because my seat was not nearly as good (read: close to the stage). But make no mistake—the huge audience was well-nigh delirious with joy. My favorite songs are “Turn It Off” and “Hello” (not the Adele version).

“The Book of Mormon” is complex, multi-layered, sweet, blasphemous, with a heart of pure gold. Go forth and get tickets quickly—and good luck.

For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.