So many shows that initially are shocking soon lose that ability to startle and outrage us. Fortunately, six-and-a-half years after it first conquered Broadway, The Book of Mormon still feels as blasphemous and funny as it ever did.
Now on its second visit to the Kravis Center through Sunday, the scabrous send-up of the loopy contemporary religion is well represented by a winning cast and the laser-sharp staging of Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker. So if you have never seen this irreverent, but ultimately upbeat musical, this would be a good time to see what all the gasping and guffawing is about. Unless, of course, profanity is your personal hot button.
With Matt Stone, Parker is the creative force behind the sacred cow-skewing cable comedy series South Park, which shares a pointedly satirical sensibility with this, their first stage musical. The Mormon church certainly comes in for merciless ribbing, but the show also delivers a message about the power of belief.
The church, its doctrines and its efforts to expand its flock around the world are seen through the eyes of two young, naive missionaries – sincere, but self-centered Elder Price (Kevin Clay) and unkempt, truth-challenged Elder Cunningham (played by standby Jacob Ben-Shmuel at the press opening). It is their misfortune to be sent to Uganda, land of AIDS, female mutilation and violent warlords. As pop culture-obsessed Cunningham quickly discovers, this part of Africa has nothing in common with The Lion King.
The Book of Mormon, however, does. Parker, Stone and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q) have written a gleefully profane homage/ripoff of “Hakune Matata” called “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” a catchy nose-thumbing to God. If you need further proof that Parker and Stone know Broadway, it comes when the Ugandans sing and dance their version of the saga of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, a direct parallel to The King and I’s “Small House of Uncle Thomas.”
Much of the rest of the show’s snarky humor should remain a surprise, but you will know the lengths The Book of Mormon is willing to go for a laugh when you see a scene set in a fiery hell populated by the likes of Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer and Johnnie Cochran.
Loudmouth loose cannon Cunningham is the show’s scene-stealing role and Ben-Shmuel does it goofy justice. Preening Price is more of a straight man, but Clay gets his share of the laughs with the narcissistic “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” and an uber-sincere solo, “I Believe.” PJ Adzima is a standout among the other missionaries as a gay tap-dancer doing his best to deny his sexual orientation, and Kim Exum is delightful as a Ugandan lass who yearns to convert and go to the promised land, Sal Tlay Ka Siti.
The Book of Mormon may not be the ideal show to take the entire family this Thanksgiving weekend, but leave the kids and the easily offended adults behind and held to the Kravis for an exceedingly clever musical comedy.
THE BOOK OF MORMON, Kravis Center Dreyfoos Hall. 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday, Nov. 26. $45-$105. 561-832-7469.