Chorus lines, big smiles, powerful voices — there are a few things we know to expect when we go see a musical, and “Book of Mormon” is no different from any other show on that count. But it does differ a bit in the execution. By turns profane, hilarious and heartwarming, the musical from the creators of “South Park” has somehow managed to be a humongous hit that doesn’t offend the group it’s gently mocking. That’s just part of it’s charm, says David Larsen, who stars as Elder Price in the show, which returns to Boston Tuesday.
“So many people are afraid that, ‘oh gosh, you’re bashing the Mormons.’ No, not really. Mormons have a sense of humor, too. People have been making fun of Catholics for millennia, and they seem to be doing all right,” says Larsen.
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Elder Price begins the show as the golden child, excelling at everything and destined for greatness, until he gets sent on a mission to Africa with the decidedly less accomplished Elder Cunningham, and watches all his best-laid plans fall apart. Larsen describes him as “a very type A personality.”
“Sometimes I like to think he truly believes that he could be the second coming of Joseph Smith. That is his role model, and he’s going to do everything that he can to change the world,” explains Larsen.
Sadly, things don’t turn out quite the way Price is expecting, and Larsen says he got some advice on how best to understand the poor guy. “When I worked with [creator] Trey Parker and [director] Casey Nicholaw, they said that Cunningham gets all the funny lines. He really gets to be the comic relief, and Elder Price is the straight man, but what’s really funny about Elder Price is just watching him being s— on the entire play. I was like, ‘Yeah, OK, I get it.’”
“South Park” has faced criticism since it premiered that it can be childish and offensive, but Larsen says that this isn’t giving the show full credit. “I think what the show does, like with what this musical does, is through all of the fart jokes and everything that would seem to be childish humor, it’s actually very intelligent and every episode has a point that they’re trying to make. It’s not just fart jokes for fart jokes’ sake.”
The show certainly follows through on that promise, as it makes a broader point about the way in which religion can help people get through terrible situations, even if it makes the point by way of numbers such as “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” While a musical might seem like an odd choice for connoisseurs of fart jokes, Larsen says it’s actually the perfect format. “I think music theater gives you a liberty to do the ridiculous that normal everyday conversation doesn’t allow for. If you’re going to start bursting out into song, well, you can pretty much do anything, because nobody really bursts out into song.”