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Anthony Chase: 'Book of Mormon' is outrageously irreverent fun

The national touring production of “The Book of Mormon,” currently at Shea’s, maintains the cheeky fun of the original with admirable freshness and an excellent cast. Indeed, seeing this show again reminded me just how good it feels to give yourself over to unbridled laughter.

“The Book of Mormon” tells the story of a pair of mismatched 19-year old Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, and the unlikely adventures of self-discovery they experience on their mission to Uganda. Devised by the creators of television’s “South Park,” “The Book of Mormon” features the irreverence of that show, but with heavy doses of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway, set to Walt Disney theme park choreography. That unlikely mix is amplified with uproariously offensive humor. The effect is irresistibly entertaining -- unless, of course, you are easily offended.

Of particular note on this tour is the hilariously precise performance of Liam Tobin as Elder Price. Good looking to the point of human caricature, Tobin endows the character with self-confidence to the point of idiocy, coupled with the shallow self-absorption of a 2-year-old. He also possesses a glorious singing voice. A true triple-threat, I was impressed by his comic timing, his vocal prowess, and his dancing, which adds tremendously to his performance. Watch as he shifts from the inane jazz hands of Disney Parade movement to become a jerky puppet-on-a-string in the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” sequence. The choreography is by Casey Nicholaw.

Jordan Matthew Brown is very lovable as Elder Cunningham, the misfit Mormon missionary with a pathological veracity problem. Together, Tobin and Brown make an appealing, if unlikely pair, like a Mormon Abbot and Costello. Beginning with their duet, “You And Me (But Mostly Me),” Tobin’s smug character sorely needs his comeuppance, so when he begins to become the brunt of every joke and mishap, the audience roars its approval. That is the dynamic of the whole show.

There’s a lot of competition in this cast for chief clown. During Elder Price’s soaring anthem to Mormon guilelessness, “I Believe,” Corey Jones, as the warlord with the unprintable name, hands half the laughs to Tobin with his brilliant eye rolls and comic takes. The song, incidentally, is a send up of “I Have Confidence” from “The Sound of Music” in which Julie Andrews sang, “A captain with seven children; what’s so fearsome about that?” Price asks himself, “A warlord who shoots people in the face; what’s so scary about that?”

In another Rodger and Hammerstein homage, a re-enactment of the story of Joseph Smith becomes a parody of Jerome Robbins’ “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” ballet from “The King and I.” The scene provides the cast of Ugandan villagers with a chance to channel their inner Lucy and Desi.

The chorus of missionaries, led by remarkable Andy Huntington Jones as Elder McKinley, is uniformly uproarious, especially on a number like “Turn it Off,” in which they instruct Elder Price on how to perform a little Mormon trick for putting bad thoughts and unwholesome impulses out of your mind. They also score big laughs with the wickedly funny Disney parody, “I Am Africa.” Jones is an especially adept comedian. His character’s periodic outbursts of suppressible homoerotic desire are outrageously funny.

Jones is also featured in the Mormon tableaux vivant that begin each act. These are comic retellings of the story of the real “Book of Mormon” with actors playing the characters, including Mormon, his son Moroni, Joseph Smith, and even Jesus.

For many, “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” will be the apotheosis of the show’s marvelously clever if tasteless humor. Here we confront a comic Mormon version of hell, complete with devils with pitchforks, dancing Starbucks cups and unrepentant villains – including, in this vision, O.J. Simpson’s lawyer, Johnnie Cochran.

Kayla Pecchioni is charming and very funny as Nabulungi, the beautiful Ugandan ingénue whose name Elder Cunningham continually bungles. Jacques Smith as her father, Mafala, and Isaiah Tyrelle Boyd as the doctor have a talent for bringing hilarious sincerity to the most outrageously vile lyrics and situations.

The tour maintains Ann Roth’s fabulously witty costumes and Scott Pask’s excellent set.

While “Book of Mormon” first opened in 2011, it still feels new and entertaining. It you’ve seen the show before, you might find yourself laughing in anticipation of upcoming jokes. If you’ve never seen the show, this tour is an excellent opportunity.

"Book of Mormon"

4 stars (out of 4)

Through May 5 in Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St. Performances are 7:30 p.m. May 1 and 2, 8 p.m. May 3, 2 and 8 p.m. May 4 and 2 and 7 p.m. May 5.  Tickets are $26 - $147 (box office, 1-800-745-3000, sheas.org).

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