HOME | Arts & Events

‘Book of Mormon’ at Altria delights, offends and warms your heart

Julie Clayton | February 9, 2017

Since 2011, the musical The Book of Mormon has been thrilling crowds on and off Broadway. And the 2017 tour currently playing at Richmond’s Altria theatre is no exception.

From the opening medley spoofing the infamous door bell-ringing and white-shirted boys on bicycles to the closing ensemble led by freshly-baptized new Mormons, the touring company wowed and delighted the audience through song, dance and raunchy (and not-so-politically correct) humor.

For those who’ve been hiding in a cave somewhere for the last six years, The Book of Mormon follows two Mormon missionaries – Elder Price and Elder Cunningham – who are sent to Uganda on their mission.

For the pious and rule-following Elder Price, the assignment shakes his faith – he’d been praying for his mission to take him to Orlando.

For the nerdy and socially awkward Elder Cunningham, it confirms his faith – he’d been praying to be assigned with the esteemed Elder Price.

The pair join a group of missionaries who’ve had no luck converting the natives. Their orderly and by-the-book attempts at conversion have fallen on deaf and sometimes hostile ears. The villagers, after all, are in constant fear of death at the hands of the sinister General Butt-Fucking Naked. Salvation is not high on their priority list.

As Elder Price becomes increasingly overwhelmed and starts to unravel, Elder Cunningham must try to convince at least one person to convert before the anticipated visit by the Mission President coming to review their progress.

Cunningham convinces Nabulungi, daughter of the village chief Mafala Hatimbi, to bring a group of people to listen to his message.

Only going “by the book” doesn’t work so well. They fall asleep and sometimes call out “what the fuck?” at the nonsensical stories. They are bored, and frankly, much more concerned about issues such as poverty, female mutilation, and how to cure the A.I.D.S. epidemic affecting about 70% of the villagers.

So Elder Cunningham does what he does best – he makes up stories, a habit that in the past has served to win him friends. Cue in the catchy “Making Things up Again,” and the villagers are spellbound. First Nabulungi, and then several more villagers are baptized.

The Book of Mormon is unapologetic in its satire of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and perhaps religion in general. The show is full of irreverent song and dance numbers – “Man Up,” “Hasa Diga Eebow” [loosely, F.U. God], “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” which ridicules some of the Mormon churches tenets and practices.

In “Turn it Off,” the show jabs at the perception that Mormon’s have a switch that enables them to turn off emotions and ignore painful experiences and to turn on a bright smile and saccharine enthusiasm. . . . Elder McKinley shoves his homosexuality into a box and “crushes” the gay out.

But with the hilarity and irreverence come layers of deeper themes as well. Elder Price and Elder Cunningham demonstrate that sometimes following the rules and being pious result in loneliness and isolation. It is shared humanity and the sharing of diverse stories that can truly affect change.

And The Book of Mormon is a celebration of differences – Elder McKinley learns to embrace his sexuality, and Price and Cunningham learn that despite their many dissimilarities, they are there for each other when it counts the most.

As thrilling and entertaining as it was to experience the phenomenon that is The Book of Mormon, which Vogue Magazine called “the filthiest, most offensive and – surprise – sweetest thing you’ll see . . .,“ as a local theatre aficionado, it can be disheartening to see the scores of people pouring to the show when fine local theatre sometimes has trouble filling seats.

Still, I laughed out loud and thrilled with the rest of them.

And stood for the well-deserved ovation.

Book of Mormon runs now through Sunday, 2/12, at the Altria Theatre. You can still snag tickets here!