RENEE DEANDA  The Mainstream

The cosmos themed heavenly backdrop of “The Book of Mormon” decorated the mainstage of the Eugene Hult Center Jan. 16 to 21, 2018. An international musical sensation, the story begins with a narrative many Mormons will remember from church, Moroni and the Golden Plates of the Nephites. However, the wholesome church theatre ends there. From this point forward, famed South Park writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone present instead their take on some teachings of the Book of Mormon, religion as a whole and the typical American Christian. The musical is a parody in nature but “The Book of Mormon” is far from relatable if one only looks beyond the tap dancing demons.

Songwriter Robert Lopez, Oscar award winner and a songwriter from Disney’s “Frozen”, begins the show as many beginnings first “Hello.” Perhaps the most iconic song from the musical, “Hello” serves a summary of Mormon door-to-door dialogue. Two rows of bright eyed newly trained Elders prepare for their mission of serving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints abroad. As the other Elders are getting paired and sent away to exotic destinations, Mormon poster child Elder Price is matched with goofball Elder Cunningham and sent to underdeveloped Uganda. Although neither boy has been away from Salt Lake City, and are skeptical about the success of their mission, they embark to convert the natives of Uganda. Price reveals to Cunningham, through song of course, that he is God’s chosen choice for this journey.

Compared to the 2011 original Broadway cast, Kevin Clay’s portrayal of Elder Price is somehow more perfect than a Mormon Eagle Scout studying at Brigham Young University. If it were not for the “Who’s Who” section included in the playbill, you would never know that this is Clay’s national tour debut. Elder Cunningham, portrayed by Conner Peirson, gives fans of the show a new take on the role. Peirson strays a touch from the traditional village fool portrayal of Cunningham and moves more toward the persona of the geeky cousin we would all avoid at family gatherings which served as the perfect balance for Elder Cunningham. Peirson uses his comedic skills to draw the audience in and transform Elder Cunningham from pariah to prophet. The mismatched pair continue to the mission headquarters in Uganda and are greeted by armed militia and later friendly village faces.

“Hasa Diga Eebowai”, one of the more controversial songs in the musical because of excessive cursing and the translation of hasa diga eebowai which is revealed later in the number. Afterwards, “Turn It Off” offers a brilliant and necessary comedic relief. Elders Price and Cunningham are joined by the other missionaries who lead them through a “nifty little trick” they use to forget their worries. “Just turn ‘em off! Like a light switch.” Or at least this is the advice Mckinley, played by Pj Adzina, gives our heroes. Adzina portrays the sexually confused Elder McKinley, and steals the spotlight both in this number and “I Am Africa”. Other notable performances included Kayla Pecchioni who plays Nabulungi. Pecchioni sang “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” (Salt Lake City) to perfection and worked wonderfully in “Baptize Me”. The main antagonist, the General, portrayed by Corey Jones, threatens to kill the villagers if they do not circumcise the women. Jones was genuinely frightening and did an amazing job as the Big Bad of this production. Jones was generous enough to donate his time to UCC’s acting students and shared his skills and his journey as an actor.

It’s up to Elders Price and Cunningham to figure out how to save the villagers, both their lives and their souls. Effortless set design and transition add the icing on the cake as the Elders journey through new ideas, people, and conflicts. “The Book of Mormon” takes a stab, or rather a gunshot, to the idea of religion and the role it plays in people’s lives. As seen in the musical numbers “Joseph Smith American Moses” and “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” which were the most intricate and most entertaining numbers of the show.

Through Elder Price’s doubt in God existing and Elder Cunningham resorting to any means necessary to convert and help the villagers, writers Stone and Lopez display a common theme; who cares what you believe in as long as you’re nice to your neighbors. •