‘The Book of Mormon’: Irreverent and profane, but still funny after all these years

Tony Award-winning musical, with its R-rated content, is making its fourth visit to San Diego since the first touring production came through in 2014


This week, the ever-irreverent musical “The Book of Mormon” marks its fourth visit to the San Diego Civic Theatre in five years.

I wondered, on seeing it for the fourth time, if its ear-scouring language would still shock; if its Mormon hell scene would still feel as wildly bizarre; and if its near-constant stream of tear-inducing jokes has stood the test of time. Judging by Wednesday’s performance of the touring production in town through Sunday, not only has the show held up, its latest cast is bringing a fresh energy and passion to the show.

Written by “South Park” co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” songwriter Robert Lopez, “The Book of Mormon” pokes fun at the institution of the Mormon Church, but not its people. The church’s origination story is continuously skewered in amusing re-creations featuring a cartoonish Jesus (in a light-up costume) and Joseph Smith (with Day-Glo blond wig and spray tan), as well as the church’s moral rigidity, “turn it off” position on homosexuality and belated acceptance of black members.

But the Mormon missionaries themselves are multidimensional human characters who are faithful, good-natured and driven to do their duty. It’s actually surprisingly heartwarming for a show with more uses of the F, C and other curse words than I’ve ever heard onstage.

Leading the cast is exceptional Canadian actor Liam Tobin as Elder Kevin Price, the fiercely driven Salt Lake City-raised missionary whose faith and spirit are shaken when he’s sent to save souls in AIDS- and crime-infested Uganda rather than his dream city of Orlando. Tobin plays the role with a missionary zeal so ebullient, it practically explodes out of his tightly coiled body, bulging eyes and twisted lips.

As his truth-challenged missionary partner Elder Arnold Cunningham, Jordan Matthew Brown makes a hilarious transition from childish nerd to Bono-style rock star when he becomes the unlikely star of the duo’s Ugandan recruiting mission.

And Alyah Chanelle Scott is a sweet, angelic performer with a powerful singing voice as Nabulungi, the Ugandan teen who is the first to be converted by Elder Cunningham in the hilarious double entendre-laden song “Baptize Me.”

Other tour standouts are Andy Huntington Jones as gotta-dance Elder McKinley, the Ugandan mission leader having trouble turning off his gay thoughts; Jacques C. Smith as Nabulungi’s kind father, Mafala; Ron Bohmer in a number of Mormon leader roles; and Corey Jones as the murderous Ugandan warlord general with the unrepeatable name.

“The Book of Mormon” is one of those rare musicals with no weak spots or forgettable songs. Choreographed and co-directed by San Diego-bred Casey Nicholaw, its dance scenes remain the most clever and eye-popping I’ve seen in the past decade. This show looks as tight and bright as it did in 2014 and its still attracting nightly sellouts.

Over the years, the Mormon Church has taken an “if you can’t beat it, join it” attitude with the musical. It has occasionally bought ads in the printed program (“you’ve seen the musical ... now read the book!”) and sent members to hand out free copies of the real Book of Mormon to ticket-buyers. Practicing Mormons are discouraged from attending the show, but I was seated near three men Wednesday who grew up Mormon and knew the script and score by heart.

“The Book of Mormon” isn’t for everyone. It’s R-rated and profane. But it is the funniest musical I’ve ever seen. And even after four viewings, I haven’t changed my mind.

“The Book of Mormon”

When: 7:30 p.m. today. 8 p.m. Friday. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown San Diego

Tickets: $36.50 and up

Phone: (800) 653-8000