Theater review: ‘Book of Mormon’ is here to convert you


THEATER REVIEW

“The Book of Mormon”

Grade: B+

7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. (Another performance has been added at 7 p.m. Monday.) Through Feb. 9. Ticket prices start at $65. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E. 1-855-285-8499, broadwayinatlanta.com; foxtheatre.org.

Bottom line: Dementia beyond redemption.

Hello, my name is Elder Brock! And can I leave this here for you to just peruse? It has a lot of information you can really use, in regards to a certain raucous spoof of Mormonism that you may or may not want to choose.

The little song I’m singing has of course been shamelessly ripped off from “The Book of Mormon,” the wildly popular Broadway musical that arrived Thursday night at the Fox Theatre after a 48-hour, weather-related delay. In a region brought to its knees by a paralyzing storm, the patently ridiculous, one-of-a-kind satirical romp is a decidedly warm and embracing comedic joy ride.

From the afore-mimicked opening number, which encapsulates the doorbell-ringing zeal of young Mormon elders required to proselytize in parts unknown for two years, to the final song, when Elders Price and Cunningham have done their worst to convert the natives of Uganda, “Book of Mormon” never lets up.

And why would it?

With book, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”) and “South Park” instigators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the giddy entertainment imagines the worst nightmare of Mormon boy wonder Price (Mark Evans) and his spastic sidekick, Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill).

Price has long fantasized that his missionary assignment will take him to sunny Orlando — no doubt with a companion who is a similarly pert specimen of the Mormon ideal. Instead, he gets packed off to AIDS-ravaged Uganda with a geek who has never even read the Book of Mormon but is well versed in “Star Wars” and Hobbit lore.

Throw in a village of earnest natives looking to escape disease, poverty and the tyranny of a murderous general (Derrick Williams), and you have a recipe for mayhem. The songs — including the anthemic “I Believe,” the lilting “Baptize Me” and “Turn It Off,” an instructional tune on how to suppress desire and distraction — are superbly designed and wonderfully sung here. (Choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who co-directs with Parker, provides the kicky dance steps for this consistently top-notch ensemble.)

As Nabulungi, the radiant village girl who longs for salvation, Samantha Marie Ware is lovely. As closet case Elder McKinley and the angel Moroni, Grey Henson is delightful. And Broadway stalwart Ron Bohmer is quite fine in a variety of “senior” roles, including that of Mormon patriarch Joseph Smith.

As for the leads, Evans is terrific, if a little cosmetized as the tall, chiseled Price, who is ever so reminiscent of the young Mitt Romney. (Watch when he coddles the baby.) The diminutive O’Neill delivers in the vocal department, but his comedic shenanigans feel just a little one-note. Maybe I’m spoiled by the Broadway production I saw in the summer of 2012, but this Cunningham is a little like getting Mel Brooks’ dryly witty Igor when you were expecting an obnoxious meatball like William Barfée (of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” fame). Though O’Neill captures the nerdy tics of Cunningham (the hysterical laugh, the awkward posture), his performance could be richer and more detailed.

No surprise that the touring production has been scaled back on the design side. Still, Scott Pask’s scenery, Ann Roth’s costumes, and Brian MacDevitt’s lighting still look spectacular — from the celestial majesty of Utah to the fiery depths of hell in Price’s dream sequence. The sound is so loud, though, that some lines get lost in the muddle.

Though I’ve never quite been a full-out convert to the fanaticism “The Book of Mormon” has inspired, I’m pretty tickled by its smartly subversive writing and impeccable craftsmanship. (Hello!) I suspect you will be, too.