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Despite sound issues, ‘The Book of Mormon’ delivers the profane goods at Smith Center

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Man up: Denée Benton, left, and Cody Jamison Strand praise God (and sex frogs) at the Smith Center.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Jacob Coakley
Four stars

The Book of Mormon Through July 6; Tuesday-Sunday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 2 p.m.; $39-$150. Smith Center's Reynolds Hall, 702-749-2000.

The Book of Mormon, the mega-hit musical from Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the minds behind South Park) and Robert Lopez (he co-wrote “Let It Go”) rolls into the Smith Center with as many awards as profanities—and delivers even more laughter.

Book follows the exploits of Mormon missionaries Elder Price and Elder Cunningham as they’re sent to proselytize in a cartoonishly awful version of Uganda. The show doesn’t traffic in subtlety. Its calling card is some of the most audacious, scatological and hysterical lyrics in musical theatre history. It manages to use a constant barrage of low humor to tackle some of the biggest questions of existence, like why God lets bad things happen to good people, what to do when those bad things happen and why to behave well now—not because of some promise of a latter day, but because it will bring you happiness in the present.

If you don’t actually listen to the lyrics, you would be forgiven for thinking this is a relentlessly old-fashioned musical. They take very old conventions and tricks of theatre and use them so well—the appearance of sparkly vests during a microsecond blackout; fabric used as running water (and, well, bodily excretions)—they become new and electric, leaving the audience gasping with laughter. Which is not to say they skimp on the spectacle. “Man Up,” the first act closer, is filled with as many strobes and moving beams of light as a rock concert.

Cody Jamison Strand, who sings “Man Up” and plays the enthusiastic, relentlessly incompetent Elder Cunningham, is delightfully dorky, perfectly balancing his cluelessness and earnestness with a genuine sweetness. As Elder Price, David Larsen has a long way to fall, and commits to every moment of that journey with manic purpose—plus he sings the hell out of “I Believe.” Denée Benton, as Nabulungi, has a simply amazing voice, clear and bright, and a charming presence that lets her go along with the jokes but not become one herself. And every time Pierce Cassedy (as Elder McKinley) came onstage I laughed.

The Smith Center continues to present sonic challenges. While songs with only one or two singers are fine, adding a large chorus immediately turns sound to mush. The fireworks of Book truly are the words—which made the muddling of some of first-act songs criminal. The sound team got a better handle on it during the second act, so hopefully they’ve gotten used to whatever it is that bedevils sound at the Smith Center.

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