‘Book of Mormon’ outrageous, relentless – with underlying sweetness

Billy Harrigan Tighe in the Broadway Sacramento presentation of “The Book of Mormon” at the Sacramento Community Center Theater.
Billy Harrigan Tighe in the Broadway Sacramento presentation of “The Book of Mormon” at the Sacramento Community Center Theater.

“The Book of Mormon” has finally arrived in Sacramento, with the musical living up to everything you’ve likely heard about it. The outrageous and merciless satirical material is expected and relentless. Less said about the show is the underlying sweetness and heart in the midst of its often crude and vulgar humor. As off-center as the jokes and content can be, the story finds a sweet spot of American musical storytelling with redemption and the triumph of an unlikely underdog. Beyond that, the singing and dancing are terrific.

The play premiered on Broadway on March 24, 2011, subsequently winning nine Tony Awards, including best musical, best score (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), best book (Parker, Lopez, Stone), and best direction (Casey Nicholaw, Parker). The lively production has clever, vibrant choreography by Casey Nicholaw. Parker and Stone created the raw animated comedy “South Park,” while co-writer Lopez is a co-composer/co-lyricist of the adult puppet comedy musical “Avenue Q” and the animated film “Frozen.”

The first national tour embarked in 2012 and the show has been in the San Francisco twice, but this is its first stop in Sacramento. The two-week run here is already sold out, but there is a nightly lottery for $25 tickets at the box office.

The story follows two young Mormons, Billy Harrigan Tighe’s perfect Elder Price, and A.J. Holmes’ awkward Elder Cunningham as they start out on their prescribed two-year mission to Uganda. Both Tighe and Holmes give big powerful performances, showcasing beautiful voices, convincing dancing and smooth comic timing. The Africa they encounter is far from the sanitized version we are often exposed to. The town they are sent to is quite poor, AIDS in common, and the population is terrorized by a warlord who threatens genital mutilation to the local young women.

One of the wonders and comic ironies of the musical is how the bright, tuneful melodies undercut the grim reality.

The musical often parodies and borrows from other musicals, nicking a cross-section of the genre. Their opening “Hello,” shows the young Mormons ringing doorbells in a scene reminiscent of “The Telephone Hour” from “Bye Bye Birdie”; “Hasa Diga Eebowai” mocks “Hakuna Matata” from the “The Lion King”; the “Joseph Smith American Moses” performance takes off on the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” pageant in “The King and I.”

Alexandra Ncube as Nabulungi, Stanley Wayne Mathis as her father, Mafala Hatimbi, and Brian Beach as Moroni stand out in the brassy energetic ensemble.

The musical’s spirit of fearless mischief never wavers as it pokes fun at Mormons specifically, religion in general and thoughtless conformity, but it also finds a sense of genuine hope in humility and honest service to others.

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

The Book of Mormon

What: Broadway Sacramento presents the national touring company production of the Tony Award-winning satire.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Thursday, Saturday, Sunday through March 20.

Where: Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento

Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Information: The run is sold out. The production conducts a pre-show lottery for every performance at the Community Center Theater box office, making a limited number of tickets available at $25. Entries are accepted at the Community Center Theater box office, 13th and L streets, beginning 2  1/2 hours before each performance. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for the tickets. 916-557-1999; BroadwaySacramento.com.