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REVIEW: 'Book of Mormon' is sinfully silly fun musical theater extravaganza

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:52 pm   ::  

DES MOINES - Piety and profanity live in glorious harmony in "The Book of Mormon."

The hot Broadway musical that swept up nine Tony Awards in 2011 is bringing the word to the masses on its first national tour, including a stop at the Civic Center in downtown Des Moines through Feb. 3, 2013. Friday night's show (1/25/13) was sold out, so don't hesitate to grab up whatever tickets are left and head to this heavenly happening.

It's so good -- and so bad.

Shining through all the fresh-scrubbed faces, gleaming Osmond smiles, crisp door-to-door uniforms and heavenly happy melodies are constant reminders that this show is the brainchild of the men who sired television's "South Park" and Broadway's dirty muppets, "Avenue Q."

This surely is Joseph Smith's spooky Mormon hell dream on stage, but the Mormon Church is turning the other cheek and in three full playbill ads, three smiling faces declare, "I've read the book," "The book is always better" and "You've seen the play ... now read the book." That's a classy response to a play you won't see going door to door anytime soon.

Once you wipe the smile off your face and work the shock out of your system, the show really does have morally uplifting themes of unity in the face of unspeakable horrors -- it's just that you have to wade through some hilarious horrors to get there.

The details

  • The Book of Mormon

  • Civic Center,  Des Moines

  • When: Through Feb. 3, 2013; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

  • Tickets: $35 to $130 at the Civic Center Box Office, Ticketmaster outlets, 1-(800) 745-3000 or

  • Warning: Contains explicit language

  • Show website:

It's the story of all that goes awry when two eager young elders, beautiful Kevin Price (Mark Evans) and bumbling Arnold Cunningham (Christopher John O'Neill) are sent to Uganda for their two-year mission to convert the natives to the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All sorts of madness and mayhem ensue when their "Lion King" image of Africa is shattered by the world of warlords, female circumcision and AIDS at all ages.

The show is packed full of "Lion King" homages that would make Walt Disney roll over in his grave, beginning with the jubilant "Hasa Diga Eebowai," that sounds as carefree as "Hakuna Matata," but is far from a wonderful phrase. Alas, I can't translate it in print, but suffice it to say, f-bombs fly openly and hit a target deep within your belly. Like so many moments in the show, it seems wrong to laugh, but you just can't help it.

What keeps audiences glued to their seats instead of springing for the exits is the utter charm wrapped around all the heinous hilarity. The music is so bouncy and bright, the choreography is so bouncy and bright, the actors are so bouncy and bright and the backdrops are so bouncy and bright, that heck, you just bounce right along, in spite of yourself.

The actors are top-flight. Their resumes are long and vibrant, from Broadway to television and film. Special nods go to Evans and O'Neill -- the perfect foils for the foibles unfolding around them. Evans is stuffed full of dreamboat derring-do, and stuffed full of himself, while O'Neill is stuffed with dreams of finally fitting in and proving to his dad that he's not a screwup. They are simply great actors, great singers and great dancers shining in great roles.

Samantha Marie Ware belts out her pathos, hope and glory as young Nabulungi, embracing the word of the white elders who promise deliverance from the fear and desolation of her environment. She and her people live under the constant threat of violence, mutilation, rape and death at the hands of a general whose name is not fit for print, and his henchmen -- if the villagers survive the scorpions, mosquitoes and lions. We're not in Kansas anymore. Or Utah.

The villagers are a colorful lot, mixing their native batiks with ball caps and cutoffs, fearful and dismissive of the missionaries in their midst, yet hungry for the promised paradise. But when Elder Price has a crisis of faith and abandons the villagers, bumbling Elder Cunningham must lead them to their happy days.

Trouble is, he's never read the Book of Mormon, and he lies like a rug. So the word becomes weird, but in the end, not really that far astray from its original intent. The play the villagers devise to show the visiting Mission President what they’ve learned made me gasp and say, "oh my God" out loud, twice.

So, be forewarned. If you're headed to the show, you will laugh -- a lot. You'll see big, old-fashioned musical theater production numbers full of tap dancing, sequins, fake smiles and fabulous musicality. You'll see a Drake University alum -- Mike McGowan -- glow in his various elder statesmen roles. You'll see Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, devils and coffee cups dancing through "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream." You'll hear beautiful ballads and blasphemy.

And in the end, you'll be converted too.

"The BOM" is the bomb.


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