Barbed humor notwithstanding, there’s something innocent (not the language, certainly) about “The Book of Mormon” at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. With book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park”) and Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”), Broadway’s latest musical is very funny without being nasty or mean-spirited, boasting a lively and fun score as well.
“Mormon” takes place mostly in Uganda, where the odd couple of clean-cut overachiever Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) and chubby underachiever Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) have been sent as missionaries. They are greeted with the local anthem, “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” a sacrilegious takeoff on “The Lion King”’s “Hakuna Matata.”
Price soon abandons the mission in defeat. It’s up to Cunningham to convert souls with his singular take on the Book of Mormon, which he freely translates into whatever his audience wants to hear. His dazzling success comes to the attention of church officials, and things go full circle when they learn why his baptism rate is so high.
As irreverent as it is, “Mormon”’s essence is completely traditional: a tale of triumph over adversity. “The Book of Mormon” keeps us rooting for the underdog and laughing an awful lot while we do.