Opening up a return trip to Dallas on Tuesday night at the Winspear, the deliriously funny and cheerfully profane musical The Book of Mormon felt as fresh as it did in 2011, when the guys who gave the world Eric Cartman became improbable Broadway heroes. The hype, at fever pitch on its first tour stop here in 2013, has hardly subsided—opening night saw a packed house, and the show will likely sell out or come close to it for every night of its week-and-a-half engagement. Believe it.
A wonderful cast on board for this tour does justice to the much-praised material. Gabe Gibbs is unfailingly earnest as the Church of Latter-day Saints’ favorite son, Elder Price, who is paired with the Mormon misfit Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand, a screeching and robust performer) for a well-intentioned but naive soul-saving mission to Uganda. Daxton Bloomquist is a scene-stealer as a fabulous (and deeply closeted) missionary already on the ground in Africa.
Candace Quarrels brings a heartbreakingly beautiful voice to bear as Nabulungi, the Ugandan woman who sees in these black-tied, virginal young men an opportunity to escape a bad situation—AIDS, the threat of mutilation, a general whose name the prudish Mormons sanitize as “Butt Effing Naked”—for the paradise of Salt Lake City.
The Book of Mormon earns its reputation for irreverence. Sex with frogs, the diarrhea of early Mormon leader Brigham Young, and genital maggots are just some of the subjects immortalized in the musical’s infectiously catchy songs. You’ll spend days humming a chipper little tune that doubles as a raised middle finger to God (“Hasa Diga Eebowai”).
But only the most uptight of audiences would take offense at Book of Mormon’s humor, which is ruthless but affectionate. It satirizes the rigidity of organized religion and the foolishness of the West’s ill-informed visits to the so-called Third World, but its bile is reserved for the hypocrites and the selfish, not the religious. You can almost sense the nonbeliever’s envy of the faithful’s conviction, and co-creator Matt Stone has indeed, in interviews, called the musical “an atheist’s love letter to religion.”
That’s the show’s not-so-secret weapon: its heart. For all its poop jokes and four-letter words, The Book of Mormon is a moving tribute to the power of belief, in something, anything, that makes an ugly world easier to live in.
The Book of Mormon runs through Dec. 31 at the Winspear Opera House. Tickets are available here — additional $25 tickets will be made available in a lottery at the Winspear Cafe an hour and a half before each showtime.