With the national tour of “Hamilton” a season away from its South Florida debut, “The Book of Mormon” is still arguably the hottest Broadway tour on the circuit. I first reviewed it in 2013 on this website, during its inaugural tour of the region, when tickets were as scarce as clean needles in Uganda. It’s returned annually to at least one of the three South Florida presenting theaters, selling out or playing to near capacity every show.
But a lot can change in four years, especially on Broadway. Yesterday’s innovative breakthroughs are tomorrow’s dull retreads. Shocking content often loses its outré jolts over time. The news cycle can render commonplace what once was outrageous. I wanted to see if “The Book of Mormon” still holds up.
It’s a show that is nothing if not consistent. Its current residency at the Arsht Center felt like a Xerox of the 2013 tour. For all intents and purposes, the new cast is the same as the old cast, down to the microbial level: Every choice, every choreographed step, every vocal inflection conjured the original touring vision and, presumably, the Broadway production (co-writer Trey Parker gets a co-directing credit here).
And I laughed—a lot. The story of solipsistic alpha missionary Elder Price (Kevin Clay) and his awkward beta partner Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) dispatched to a starved, mutilated and war-torn Ugandan village for their first mission proves to be a durable premise for broad humor and pointed commentary, especially when exploring the contrast between the first and third worlds, and the need for religion in a place where lion attacks are an occupational hazard and where clean water is a luxury.
What I can say is that the hype and luster of “The Book of Mormon” have inevitably waned. In a debauched culture like ours, all those four-letter words that might have prompted harrumphing walkouts during the blasphemous “Hasa Diga Eebowai” no longer seem like such a big deal. Years removed from its Tony-winning, record-breaking ascendency as the greatest musical of its generation, “The Book of Mormon” is starting to feel like another canonized warhorse that’s perfectly OK to criticize and nitpick. To wit: The rock bombast of “Man Up” feels like it belongs in a different show, the gutter humor of “Joseph Smith American Moses” doesn’t have the comic chops to justify its length or crudeness, and that whole “maggots in my testicles” motif was barely funny the first time, let alone the second or third.
What holds up better than ever are the songs—effervescent and joyful earworms performed with evangelistic gusto by a cast that dances on cloud nine whenever the orchestra rustles to life. “Hello,” “Turn it Off,” “Baptize Me” and the aforementioned “Hasa Diga” are simply spectacular pieces of musical stagecraft; these tunes feel like they’ve been with us for decades.
This speaks to co-creators Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez’s talent, but also their taste for time-honored Broadway melody. “Baptize Me,” with its inherent sweetness and sparkling double entendres, could have been penned by an edgier Cole Porter. “All American Prophet,” with its rapid-fire progressions, echoes the speed and novelty of “The Music Man.” And “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” the show’s apex of ingenuity, throws in Busby Berkeley and vaudeville along with its donut-wielding skeletons, goose-stepping Fascists, and guitar-shredding demons.
If you’ve seen a previous “Book of Mormon” tour, you may look at this rendition with a more critical eye the second time around. But for “Book of Mormon” virgins, it will carry fresh comic weight and imagination, and it’s certainly worth the schlep to Miami. What are you waiting for?
“The Book of Mormon” runs through Sunday at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets run $35-$125. Call 305/949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org.