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"The Book of Mormon" began its life eight years ago as a crass gate-crasher, a gleeful and profane foray by a couple of arrested-development auteurs into a medium that was ripe for a good pantsing. Nearly a decade later, it's entered the rarified air of "Broadway Shows That Can Reliably Tour Every Couple of Years," a running list that includes "The Lion King," "Wicked," and, the world's most slam-dunk automatic bid, "Hamilton," Overture Center for the Arts' November tour offering. And while Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez's broad-as-the African-desert satire isn't nearly as subversive as it was in 2011, the current touring production (playing through this weekend in the Overture Center) is still extraordinarily funny.
As the pair of mismatched, but eager, Mormon Elders who get dispatched to the villages of Uganda, there to baptize the natives into the wonders of Mormonism, Liam Tobin and Jordan Matthew Brown do a great job of embodying their odd-couple vibe as Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. Tobin's got the chiseled-chin confidence to own "You and Me (But Mostly Me)," his early show vanity vehicle. Brown rocks the nebbish vibe in ways both big and small, and it's fun to see him shake off his shyness and use his catalogue of pop culture references to, um, inspire the villagers. His scenes with Alyah Chanelle Scott's Nabulungi are sweet and affecting—in ‘Baptize Me," you almost have to believe that the double entendre could lead somewhere.
This production relies far more on malapropisms, props and strong singing and dancing to win the audience than fancy pyrotechnics and elaborate set pieces—with the exception, naturally, of "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream," which thrusts us into the only Broadway dance number set in what looks like a fiery human intestine. On the heels of a show like "Anastasia," that leaned heavily on CGI and projection effects, the meat-and-potatoes approach feels almost like callback to another era—even if that era still exists within this decade.
The group of actual Mormons camped outside the Overture Center, politely handing out capital-B books and answering questions (look, ma, no doorbell ringing!) brought to mind last spring's disastrous Overture touring production of "Miss Saigon," which also featured people standing outside the building trying to give the audience some perspective. Although, ironically, "The Book of Mormon's" biggest sin remains its borderline racist portrayal of Africans, not its skewering of the starched-white-shirt and-black-tie crowd.
And honestly, it's still impossible not to lose it when Tobin's Elder Brice belts out that he believes the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, Missouri. Underneath all the f-bombs and scatological souffle, "The Book of Mormon's" message still resonates, and its central point—that religion tends to ask its followers to believe in some ridiculous and illogical things, but if it inspires them to become better people and doesn't hurt anyone. It's okay—is still difficult to refute.