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'The Book of Mormon' sizzles at the Fox

'The Book of Mormon' sizzles at the Fox


Boy, is “The Book of Mormon” not for everybody.

But if it is for you, there’s a big treat waiting at the Fox Theatre, where the Tony-winning musical runs through March 3.

The language — foul, blasphemous and very smart — delivers rhymes you can’t believe you’re hearing. The gestures, vulgar and explicit, inform some of the brightest dances you’ve ever seen.

And here’s the built-in conundrum: Neither part would work without the other.

Get rid of the sunshine, and you’d slog through pure filth. Get rid of the filth, and you’d have another meaningless, feel-good pageant.

But bind them together and you have a dazzling musical, a show that draws its considerable energy from the push-pull of pleasure and shame it manages to provoke time after time after time.

The names of the show’s creators are warning enough. “The Book of Mormon” was written by the “South Park” team, Trey Parker and Matt Stone; the music is by Robert Lopez, of “Avenue Q” fame.

If those credits mean nothing to you, you probably don’t belong at “The Book of Mormon.” If they do, it’s enough to tell you whether or not you want to see this epic about hapless Mormon missionaries in Uganda, facing such tiny obstacles as AIDS, a murderous warlord and the genital mutilation of women.

Yes. In an absolutely hilarious, fast-paced musical comedy.

“The Book of Mormon” is so thoroughly an ensemble piece that it almost seems silly to single out individual performers. We get to enjoy first-class work from Mark Evans as a confident missionary who expects great things of himself, and Christopher John O’Neill as his mission partner, a nerdy science-fiction fan.

O’Neill is particularly appealing when he teams with lovely Samantha Marie Ware in the sizzling “Baptize Me,” maybe the weirdest duet ever sung on a Broadway stage. The other actors play smaller roles but give each one their all.

Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw and directed by Nicholaw and Parker, the show moves swiftly from one flashy number to another. The choreography is witty and stylish (in many different styles), smartly incorporating salutes to lots of famous musical theater moments.

“Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King” informs “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” in which the long-suffering Ugandans teach the missionaries a little saying that helps them cope with their burdens. It also describes, in graphic detail, what they’d like to do to God.

Offensive? Indeed, it is. It’s also very funny and completely understandable. “If you don’t like the things we say/Try living here a couple days,” the villagers assert.

A touch of “A Chorus Line” shows up in the equally shocking “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” Other numbers work in allusions to modern dance pioneers Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey.

Best of all, there’s a big climax telling the story of Mormon leader Joseph Smith. It blends African dance vernacular with the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” from the “King and I,” and as far as I’m concerned it could have lasted all night.

There’s more. “I Am Africa,” sung by the white missionaries, skewers every self-congratulatory anthem you’ve ever heard. But the brightest number is also the least offensive, a tap-dance tribute to the powers of psychological repression called “Turn It Off.”

Closer in tone to “Avenue Q” than to “South Park,” “Turn It Off” blithely encourages a weakness that everybody has, Mormon or not.

Even if it’s ridiculous, you have to welcome any advice that comes with sequined vests.

“The Book of Mormon”

When • Through March 3; performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays

Where • Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard

How much • $39-$100

More info • 314-534-1111;

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Judith Newmark is the theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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