The Book Of Mormon

The Book Of Mormon (Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts / March 21, 2014)

The show: "The Book of Mormon" at Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.

What makes it special?: The arrival of the national tour of Broadway's biggest musical hit in years.

First impressions: Does the hit live up to the hype? Has the humor been softened for the tour? Is there a Broadway musical god?

The answers to these questions are a definite "Yes," "No" and "Praise Jesus, yes! "

The show may not be everyone's cup of sacrilege, but those who can see beyond some really outrageous goings-on will find at its very soul a good old fashioned musical comedy with charm, heart and some great song-and-dance.

But isn't it by those bad boys who did "South Park" and "Avenue Q?": Yes, and that crude and rude sensibility is there in all its potty-mouth, anal-fixated glory. But amazingly, it lives lovingly within the context of a very sweet show that manages to mock a faith (really all faiths) while embracing its faithful.

That sounds pretty improbable: I know, which makes the accomplishment by the creative trio of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone a downright miracle.

What's it about?: Two young Mormon lads —- Elder Price, a gleaming golden boy (Mark Evans) and Elder Cunningham, a nebbish schlub (Christopher John O'Neill) —- embark from Salt Lake City on their required two-year stint of missionary work around the globe. This odd couple is sent to Uganda where the recruitment rate from previous young, eager-to-please and slightly repressed "elders" have been zero. (It's tough to ring doorbells on mudhuts.)

They find that this African reality is not like "The Lion King" as they encounter a rampaging warlord, genital mutilation, AIDS, extreme poverty, not to mention a trip to hell and a divine finger wave number. Price has a crisis of faith in this seemingly God-forsaken land but the pop-culture obsessed Cunningham uses his talent in making things up to rise to the occasion.

Did you say genital mutilation?: I know, I know. And if your sensibilities are easily triggered then perhaps this show is not for you. But the brilliance of this exuberant musical is how the essentially goodness of the characters —- naive, goofy and delusional as they may be —- sweetly overrides the awfulness and absurdities in life, in true musical comedy tradition.

And the production?: The big question is whether the touring cast is up to the task that the impressive Broadway production established. After all, the show requires a cast of mostly fairly young actors performing a delicate balancing act in getting the show's tricky tone just right. If presented too much with a wink, it becomes self indulgent and unfunny. If it's too real, it's offensive and you lose the audience.

O'Neill finds his own comic rhythms and loopy abandonment to make this sidekick a lovable hero. Evans has the wide-eyed wonder and killer pipes to make Elder Price' big anthems score big. Alexandra Ncube is charming, touching and terrific as Nabulungi, the tribal girl who is wooed by dreams of that fabulous Utah nirvana of "Sal Tlay Ka Siti." Grey Henson nails the "Turn It Off" number and the rest of the ensemble —- including Ron Bohmer in multiple roles and Corey Jones's evil general with the name we can't mention here —- are all very good indeed.

Quibbles then?: Many of the hysterically funny lyrics are lost in the large hall and the less-than-crisp sound system. The orchestra is great but the overall sound in the pit is thin.

Who will like it?: Fans of "South Park," traditional as well as untraditional Broadway musicals. Even some Mormons.

Who won't?: Some other Mormons —- or folks in general —- who find scatological humor, no matter the context, offensive. Also war lords won't like it much.

For the kids?: No nudity but lots of language bombshells, including enough anal references to fill a proctologist's notebook and one song that is blasphemously, hilariously, over the top. There's also a baptism scene that's playfully sexy. Hip teens will find it speaks to them.

Twitter review in 140 characters or less: You may not be converted but you will be convinced that the Broadway musical is alive, well and speaking to a new generation of believers.

Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: Scratch the surface of this ribald show and you'll find references to the best Broadway musicals. Like the best religions, the show masters the means of appropriation and transformation into its own wondrous ends. Hallelujah.

The basics: The play runs through March 30 at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Running time is two hours and 10 minutes including one intermission. Performances are Wednesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Information at 860-987-5900 and www.bushnell.org.