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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Review: ‘Mormon’ gets away with a lot because it’s funny

TAMPA – There are things said and seen on stage in “The Book of Mormon” that had never been done on Broadway until this musical comedy came along, setting box office records and winning a slew of Tony Awards.

Jesus Christ, Satan, AIDS, genital mutilation, Adolf Hitler, gay Mormons, Hobbits, Darth Vader, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, sexual relations with a frog, and a dance number built around diarrhea are just a few of the things used as comic plot devices.

Wrapped in profanity and blasphemy that would shock in almost any other context, “The Book of Mormon” gets away with a lot because it’s funny, silly, smart, energetic, absurdly cartoonish at times, sweet at other times; and it has a “let’s all get along” message at the end.

It may not for the easily offended. Everyone else, however, can go along for the wide ride.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of television’s irreverent “South Park,” and Robert Lopez, of “Avenue Q” fame, have given us a spirited, fast-paced musical that features almost non-stop dancing.

There are stylish, over-the-top spoofs of the Broadway dance numbers that recall past musicals such as “Wicked,” “Annie,” “The King and I,” “Bye-Bye Birdie,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “The Lion King” and others.

Memorable song and dance numbers include the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, the amusing “Turn It Off” ensemble piece which offers the simple solution to all problems and the sensuous “Baptize Me,” which gives new meaning to term.

The touring cast is solid, led by square-jawed and ever-smiling Mark Evans, a talented singer/dancer who plays Elder Price, a young Mormon missionary who prayed to be sent to the magical world of Orlando only to end up in the ugly world of Uganda.

Christopher John O’Neill is endearing as the geek misfit Elder Cunningham, a Mormon who has never read The Book of Mormon and creates his own theology based on “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.” He longs for a friend and ends up helping Elder Price embrace a little skepticism.

Lighting up the stage is Samantha Marie Ware as a spirited Ugandan woman who may become their first African convert because she dreams of Salt Lake City as a heaven.

The show also is a warped primer on the origins of the Mormon Church with church founders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young appearing along the way to explain how a set of long lost scriptures were dug up in America in the 1800s.

The plot has Elders Evans and Cunningham as a couple of fish way out of water in AIDS-stricken, war-torn and poverty-plagued Uganda. In this world, The Book of Mormon sounds like a fairy tale as would any religion, which is a major point of play.

There’s no deep message here. It’s just the simple idea that the details and rules of belief systems are not as important as doing the right thing by giving hope and help to fellow human beings.

“The Book of Mormon” runs through Nov. 24 at the Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa; tickets are $69 to $153; (813) 229-7827 and www.strazcenter.org

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