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REVIEW: 'Book of Mormon' at Hancher is a latter-day hit

Musical wraps satire, sins in gleaming glee

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IOWA CITY — I was not a virgin when I stepped into Hancher Auditorium on Tuesday night — I had experienced the rapture of “The Book of Mormon” in 2013 in Des Moines. I knew this opening night, full-house crowd was in for an evening of heavenly, devilish fun.

Still, I was in for a few surprises.

Not surprising, tickets are scarce for this Broadway tour stop, which runs through Sunday.

The musical, which swept up nine 2011 Tony Awards, including best musical and best original score, is equal parts shocking and heartwarming.

It follows the trials and travails of two fresh-faced, naive Mormon missionaries who get the rudest awakenings when they’re sent to Uganda to convert the villagers. Soon, they’re suffering the slings and arrows of f-bombs and armed robbery among a population ravaged by AIDS and the threat of murder, mutilation and mayhem at the whims of a vicious warlord whose name cannot be repeated in polite company.

“Africa is nothing like ‘The Lion King,’ ” declares a blood-splattered Elder Price, the Mormon rock star whose world is quickly rocked and rolled by the horrors that would never happen in his Orlando utopia, where he prayed he would be sent instead.

The Disney machine is nowhere in sight. This story springs from the creators of the raunchy adult cable cartoon “South Park” and the risque “Sesame Street” sendup musical, “Avenue Q.”

But golly gee, the show is just so boisterous that my face still hurts from smiling so much. Howling laughter pealed from the upper balconies to the stage as the absurdities turned the blasphemy into bliss, because gosh, underneath all the appalling scenarios beats a heart full of truth and catchy tunes with effervescent disco-ball, show-choir choreography.

I remember loving Elder Price, played on this tour by the gleaming Ryan Bondy and his Pepsodent smile. I’d forgotten his captivating screw-up partner, Elder Cunningham. No one seeing this production is soon to forget Cody Jamison Strand. He owns the stage, the show, the sorrow and the glee of the bumbling sidekick who decides to “man up” and lead the charge in bringing souls to Christ.

Just one problem: He’s never read the actual Book of Mormon, so he rewrites history, using every pop-culture image imaginable. Between his wild tales and Elder Price’s “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” audiences see the likes of Yoda, Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler and hobbits dancing delightfully through so many preposterous situations.

Both Bondy and Strand have played their roles on Broadway, and it shows. They are perfect in every way, from subtle nuances (yes, there are a few) to their over-the-top showstopping moments.

“The Book of Mormon” is full of outstanding songs and standout performances, from the leads to the supporting characters who pop up for brief moments of shining glory.

And beneath its shocking facade, it’s chock-full of life lessons big and small, wrapped up in snowballing absurdities that propel audiences to jump to their feet with thunderous applause.

IF YOU GO

What: Tony Award-winning musical “The Book of Mormon”

Where: Hancher Auditorium, 141 E. Park Road, Iowa City

When: 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $60 to $135, Hancher Box Office, (319) 335-1160, 1-800-426-2437 or hancher.uiowa.edu

Lottery: $25 preshow lottery at the Hancher Box Office; register 2 1/2 hours before show time, winners to be chosen two hours before the show

Show website: Bookofmormonbroadway.com/second-national-tour

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