It’s riotous. It’s hilarious. It’s blasphemous. It’s “The Book of Mormon” and not to be missed.
Running through June 18 in San Francisco, a new North American tour of the record-breaking 2011 Broadway musical is as relevant and riveting as ever. Boasting wildly catchy tunes with hysterical lyrics, it’s somehow nice and uplifting, too — quite a feat.
What more could be asked of a show addressing proselytizing, poverty and plague in which the sanctity of the clitoris is celebrated in song?
The winner of nine Tony Awards opened Wednesday at the Orpheum Theatre to a primed audience of young and old fans, many anticipating the nonstop jokes. They lapped up the brilliant book and score by Matt Stone and Trey Parker of TV’s “South Park” and Robert Lopez, co-creator of the musical “Avenue Q,” the uproarious send up of “Sesame Street.”
Here, their lyrics are even naughtier. “Joseph Smith American Moses” tells the Mormons’ origin story in the filthiest way, and the rousing, side-splitting “Lion King”-“Hakuna Matata” spoof includes words not fit to publish on a general audience news site. (Search online for “Hasa Diga Eebowai” to get the obscene translation.)
“The Book of Mormon’s” refreshingly straightforward plot follows the journey of hunky Elder Price (Sam McLellan) and nerdy Elder Cunningham (Evan Lennon filling in for Sam Nackman on opening night), young Mormons whose mission takes them not to France (“land of turtlenecks”) or Norway (“land of gnomes”), but to a village in Uganda. There they encounter AIDS; a warlord terrorizing females, threatening to circumcise them; and previously arrived missionaries who have not yet baptized a single African.
The delightfully giddy ensemble serves up power-packed “American Idol”-style vocals. In addition to McLellan and Lennon, there’s belter Berlande as Nabulungi, the village leader’s daughter, who dreams of better, safer life in “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” and charms with Elder Cunningham in the tender, sly, double-entendre duet “Baptize Me.”
Tour director-choreographer Jennifer Werner follows the lead of the show’s musical-theater loving creators (co-director Parker, choreographer and co-director Casey Nicholaw, and music director Stephen Oremus) who paid tribute to the form in every perfect number: “Hello,” the immediately cheery opening doorbell scene; closeted Elder McKinley (Sean Casey Flanagan) advising repression, setting off an appealing tap dancing flurry in “Turn It Off”; the catchy, bouncing penultimate “Tomorrow Is a Latter Day” adorably resembling “Hairspray,” and “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” with gut-busting appearances by Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Johnnie Cochran and Starbucks coffee haunting Elder Price, recalling the outrageous dream sequence in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
With never a dull moment, equal opportunity witty insults and fun pop references, “The Book of Mormon,” among its plentiful laughs, also manages to make fine points about the danger of religion when it loses sight of humanity.
“The Book of Mormon” continues daily except Mondays through June 18 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $60-$284 at broadwaysf.com or (888) 746-1799; a limited number of $25 seats are available via lottery at todaytix.com.