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June 19, 2014

Review: 'Book of Mormon' is brilliant

A fierce, funny look at faith

INDIANAPOLIS — If you can survive "The Book of Mormon's" bombastic song "Hasa Diga Eebowai" without fleeing the theater to run from the perversion known as Broadway, you should be able to survive any shock that life throws at you again.

As the fourth tune in the Tony-winning "The Book of Mormon," "Hasa Diga Ebowai" is, quite simply, shouting an expletive at God. But the pivotal song is just one of the hilarious diversions in this brilliant satire.

Written by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and "Avenue Q" co-creator Robert Lopez, "The Book of Mormon" may seem drenched in irreverence and bound for hell, but its heart is faith-based and purpose-driven.

"The Book of Mormon" didn't win the Tony for best musical simply because it is outrageous and challenges every musical in the past. It holds a deep current of hopeful belief — although such ethics may not always arise from organized religion.

The story begins as two suburban-bred missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are assigned to Uganda.

In a scary male-bonding road trip, the two encounter villagers who have lost all hope; they have a saying they shout at God, "Hasa Diga Eebowai." As missionaries and villagers adapt to one another, there are send-ups of Mormon history, baptism as intercourse and a hell inhabited by Adolf Hitler and O.J. Simpson.

The cast includes the whitest, nerdiest boy band you'll see on a stage trying to convince a strife-weary group of black villagers to convert to Mormonism.

Carrying most of the luggage are the two main missionaries.

Christopher John O'Neill as Elder Cunningham (played by Josh Gad on Broadway) exudes the spirit and mannerisms of an in-your-face buddy wannabe. He is the one who grows from the companion who follows to the leader whose own stories win the minds of the villagers. Cunningham twists Latter-day history to relate to current day struggles of the villagers with, of course, disastrous results.

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