'Book Of Mormon' Delivers With Sassy, Wild Energy At Bushnell

Those teeth! Bright, gleaming porcelain grins that deserve to be listed in the program as a special lighting effect.

Those dances! Herky-jerky struts with twisting hips and arms akimbo, all the more dazzling for being done in pressed black trousers and starched white shirts.

Those books! Of Mormon! Of Arnold! Those tales of treasure-finding, cross-country migration and frog-copulation miracle cures!

That faith! That overpowering passion! And, oh, what a mouth on this show!

"The Book of Mormon," in its third visit to Connecticut — and second to The Bushnell, through Sunday, Feb. 19 — retains its slickness, its sassiness, its casual cursing and its sense of wonder. The show has been around for nearly six years now but still has an edge. The snappy choreography and sight gags may have settled a bit, delivered by rote. But the abundance of wild energy can not be denied.

The show has two heroes, a couple of innocent young Mormon missionaries who are sent on an eye-opening, soul-crushing trip to Uganda. As Elder Price, Gabe Gibbs (who played the role on Broadway prior to joining the tour) uses every muscle in his face to telegraph earnestness, surprise, awe, despair and intense rectal pain. (Remember, this is a musical comedy created by the minds behind "South Park" and the composer of "Avenue Q." The human posterior is the butt of many jokes here.)

Conner Peirson throws himself bodily into the role of Elder Cunningham, not just the rock-star theatrics of his showcase song "Man Up" but the verbal pyrotechnics and prevarications he uses when freely adapting Mormon scriptures for the harsh realities of the Ugandan villagers he is attempting to convert.

There are some stage-filling sets, from clean airport waiting areas to rundown grass huts. But the main visual appeal of the show is its supporting cast and chorus, some 30 performers. They turn fairly lightweight concepts such as a tacky hellish nightmare and a community theater pageant into old-school high-kicking dance spectacles.

As the tribal leader Mafala, Sterling Jarvis finds a way to make every utterance humorous. His silent expressions while being baptized bring down the house. As Mafala's precious daughter Nabulungi, Leanne Robinson (a 2012 contestant on the British version of TV's "The X Factor," who recently joined the touring cast) comes off as believably sweet and innocent without having to soften her powerful, expressive singing voice. There are no weak members of the ensemble — even the most nondescript Mormons in the backgrounds of meetings and missions are given funny stuff to do, and make the most of each opportunity.

"The Book of Mormon" holds up well because, while it openly mocks some tired old conventions of American musical theater, it also respects the form and uses it well. It's not a parody or lampoon. It's a tale of faith, friendship and perseverance, told with four-letter words and jokes about death, AIDS and dysentery.

"I believe," Elder Price sings as he prepares to confront a bloodthirsty eyepatch-wearing despot, "that God has a plan for all of us. I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet. … I am a Mormon, and dang it, a Mormon just believes!"

"The Book of Mormon" is a show about belief that you can still believe in.

"THE BOOK OF MORMON" — by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, co-directed by Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw continues at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, through Feb. 19. Remaining performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. $36.50-$122.50. 860-987-6000, bushnell.org.

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