On a mission to entertain
The “Book” is back - and if you haven’t yet been entertained/dazed/scandalized by this raunchy scriptural satire, now might be the time.
Almost two years after its first tour visit to San Diego, “The Book of Mormon” returns Tuesday to the Civic Theatre for a nearly two-week sit-down.
The musical, of course, continues to do big business on Broadway, where it launched in 2011 and proceeded to win nine Tony Awards.
While the once-fervent buzz around the show has since been eclipsed a bit by “Hamilton” hysteria on Broadway, “Mormon” is still a major draw on tour and in New York.
In case you’re just getting up to speed on the show: “Mormon” is the musical brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the animated TV hit " South Park,” and Robert Lopez, the composer-lyricist whose works include “Avenue Q” and the songs to the movie juggernaut “Frozen.”
(Lopez wrote the “Frozen” tunes, including “Let It Go,” with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez; the couple were also at La Jolla Playhouse last summer with their world-premiere musical “Up Here.”)
Parker and Stone had long been fascinated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and “The Book of Mormon” has some roots in a “South Park” episode on the topic.
“The Book of Mormon”
When: Opens Tuesday. 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Through March 6.
Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown
Tickets: About $32-$197 (see separate info on ticket lottery)
Phone: (619) 570-1100
In 2010, the team brought aboard Casey Nicholaw, the San Diego-bred director and choreographer who had made a splash with such Broadway shows as “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Spamalot” (and had just wrapped “Robin and the 7 Hoods” at the Old Globe).
He and Stone wound up codirecting “Mormon,” which became a near-instant smash, despite (or maybe because of) its very adult material as well as worries about the church’s reaction.
In a U-T interview not long after the show opened, Nicholaw admitted that “we were sort of prepared for a backlash of some sort, or for picketing. We weren’t sure what was going to happen there.
“I think if it hadn’t been a good show, we probably would’ve gotten a lot of that. But because the buzz was so big, and it ended up being such a thing - there’s such a huge fan base for (‘South Park’) that we were able to start strong that way.”
The church now famously places ads in the “Book of Mormon” playbill, entreating potential new members with such pitches as, “You’ve seen the musical, now read the Book.”
The show begins with the sight of Elder Price, a young and clean-scrubbed missionary-to-be, ringing doorbells and singing the praises of the religion to anyone who’ll listen. Soon, he and his fellow missionaries (most notably Elder Cunningham) will find themselves winging it in a desperately poor Ugandan village that seems to have little use for their proselytizing.
On the current tour, Elder Price is played by Billy Harrigan Tighe, a Broadway and touring veteran who began with the show on London’s West End.
Ticket lottery tips
Broadway/San Diego will once again host a pre-show lottery for $25 tickets to “The Book of Mormon.” The procedure: Entries will be accepted at the Civic Theatre box office starting two and a half hours before each performance. Each person will print his or her name and desired number of tickets (one or two) on a provided card. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of $25 seats. Only one entry per person (cards are checked for duplication before the drawing). Winners must be present for the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets.
Being raised in a strict Catholic family in Georgia, Tighe wasn’t allowed to watch much “South Park” as a youngster, and wasn’t sure how his parents might react to seeing him in “Mormon.”
“I was in the show for a few months before they saw it,” he says. “I think they were shocked because it was a little more than they thought it was going to be, but they still left saying, ‘We’re a little hipper than you think we are.’”
The show, he adds, “isn’t supposed to be malicious, and it’s not supposed to be an attack on religion. So as long as you have a sense of humor about yourself, you should be able to walk away with a few guffaws but not be offended overall.”
Tighe also appreciates the way all the chatter about the show has attracted much wider audiences than most musicals.
“I think that’s what’s so great about ‘Mormon,’” he says. “Not only are you bringing people into the theater who might have never come before, but they leave seeing a show that is artistically impactful, while also (tapping into) the cultural zeitgeist of what is acceptable humor.
“It’s really a brilliant blend.”
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.