First things first. A word to every theater lover in San Diego who can’t afford a full-priced ticket to this truly remarkable event: two-and-a-half hours before every performance of The Book of Mormon, Broadway/San Diego has a lottery. People can print their name and the number of tickets they want: two, max. Two hours before curtain, B/SD draws names and sells 20 tickets for $25.00 each.
As with the Old Globe’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Murder, currently up for a passel of Tonys, The Book of Mormon has songs and production numbers so striking you want to stop the show and have them run it again.
As when the African-American members of the cast perform “Hasa Diga Eebowai” — a double-barreled satire of Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata” — and curse the Almighty; or when the young Mormon elders sing “Turn It Off,” a hilarious hymn to repression; or Cody Jamison Strand’s mock-butch, back-lit rendition of “Man Up,” a la Jesus Christ Superstar.
“What did Jesus do when they put nails through his hands? / Did he scream like a girl, or take it like a man? / When someone had to die to save us from our sins / Jesus said, “I’ll do it,” and took it on the chin.”
The Book of Mormon is an equal opportunity offender. If something somewhere in the show doesn’t tick you off, you’re either comatose or your head’s too full of texting/tweeting.
But the offenses, for the most part, come from innocence, not ingrained bigotry. As in their South Park, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone take a Puck’s-eye view of the world: “what fools these adults be.”
The plot’s goofy: hey gang, let’s do a musical about bright-eyed Mormon teens doing missionary work in Uganda, where poverty and AIDS are rife, and a General, bent on genocide, mutilates women.
And hey, let’s create a new religion as well!
And they do. It’s a remix, shorn of dogma: part Bible, part Star Wars and the Tolkien trilogy, part-whatever else comes in handy for spiritual uplift (Matt Stone called the musical “an atheist’s love letter to religion”).
The Book of Mormon is also a revival for an American tradition: musical theater. It’s hard to recall a show with such speed, life, invention, humor, daring, surprises, and astonishing precision. And with songs to match (musically they’re standard, epic Broadway fare, but the lyrics reward those who listen carefully — itself a radical choice in these non-verbal times).
The touring production at the Civic? The performers are tops, from David Larsen’s lily-white Elder Price to Tallia Brinson’s indomitable Nabulungi, and Pierce Cassedy’s Elder McKinley (who must “turn off” his sexual preference). And Cody Jamison Strand’s Elder Cunningham is special. He starts as Sancho Panza and ends up as Don Quixote’s “Impossible Dream.”
The sets show some road-wear, and the mic'ing’s blurry at the edges. Even so, this is such an amazingly entertaining evening it’s easy just to give in and enjoy — nay, love — the ride.