Big laughs and bawdy fun in ‘The Book of Mormon’ on tour at the National

Each musical number is more hilarious than the last, and every crude line or lewd joke is delivered with radiant joy and innocence.

One of the most successful Broadway musicals of all time has landed at The National Theatre with an outstanding opening night. The Book of Mormon’s positive critical response over the years has garnered many subsequent national tours, and this uproarious production, directed by Jennifer Werner, continues that stellar reputation.

The Book of Mormon is a uniquely American musical about a uniquely American phenomenon: Mormonism. The fresh, original, and wickedly funny story of two Mormon missionaries who wind up in a remote village in Uganda is rife with raunchy comedy and farcical performances that make for an evening of hysterical fun. The beloved satire follows Elder Price and Elder Cunningham as they preach about Joseph Smith to African villagers who are more preoccupied with poverty, disease, and violent warlords than the possibility of eternal life as a Latter-day Saint. When the villagers finally begin to be swayed by the missionaries’ promises, things start to get even more wackier.

Sam Nackman as Elder Cunningham and Sam McLellan as Elder Price in ‘The Book of Mormon’ national tour. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, played by Sam McLellan and Sam Nackman, are a riotous duo. McLellan is delightful as the overconfident, egotistical Elder Price, who is disappointed that he’s been sent to Uganda for his mission instead of his favorite place on Earth (Orlando, Florida) but still determined to succeed in his quest for conversion. Nackman is a talented comedic actor and perfectly cast for the overzealous Elder Cunningham, who just wants to make his dad proud — and maybe become BFFs with Elder Price along the way.

The rest of the cast is equally as charming as the two leads. Keke Nesbitt plays Nabulungi, the first villager to become interested in the missionaries, with an earnest glee and dazzling enthusiasm. Jarret Martin hilariously plays a doctor who has “maggots in his scrotum” and isn’t afraid to sing it loud and proud. Some cast members, such as Trevor Dorner and Sean Casey Flanagan, swing between multiple roles with practiced ease, creating a sense of continuity and synchronicity in the story.

The set design by Scott Pask is a vital piece of this show, and each scene is crafted with immense care and detail. The stage is outlined by a white, gleaming Mormon temple that really does feel like it’s reaching up to the heavens. On stage, the cast and crew do an amazing job of changing scenes with what seems like the touch of a fairy godmother’s wand, effortlessly gliding the story between a suburban Salt Lake City, a tattered and dusty Ugandan village, a sunny, false Florida, and even the depths of hell. The versatility of the design is remarkable, with pieces that swivel quickly to transform the stage in mere seconds.

The joy of the costume design is all in the details, such as Jesus’ curly blond hair, reminiscent of a teenage girl before a school dance, and Elder McKinley’s little pink-flowered suitcase. These comical visual touches remind us of the absolute absurdity of this world and its spunky characters.

Sam McLellan and company in ‘The Book of Mormon’ national tour. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Each musical number is more intensely hilarious than the last, not to mention filled with powerful vocals from the cast. Some of the most notable songs include “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” where Elder Price dances with a group of unsavory characters from history who have ended up in this spooky, sparkly underworld, and “Turn It Off,” in which the more experienced missionaries try to teach Elder Price and Elder Cunningham about the little Mormon trick of just “turning off” unsavory thoughts, of course in a flashy dance complete with sequined vests.

Running gags in the show provide harmonious fluidity from one scene to the next, although the raunchy nature of most means this show is definitely not for the kids — or for anyone easily offended. But every crude line or lewd joke is delivered with radiant joy and faux innocence that guarantees a gaggle of laughs. This production reminds us of the power of theater to bring us to tears — that is, tears of laughter. The Book of Mormon at The National Theatre is a complete joy that no one should miss.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes including one 20-minute intermission

The Book of  Mormon plays through March 17, 2024, at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington. Tickets ($89–$250) are available online or at the box office.

COVID Safety: Masks are strongly recommended but not required for all ticket holders. For full COVID protocol, go here.

The Book of  Mormon
Music, lyrics, and book by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone

Elder Price: Sam McLellan
Elder Cunningham: Sam Nackman
Nabulungi: Keke Nesbitt
Moroni: Sean Casey Flanagan
Mafala Hatimbi: Lamont J. Whitaker
Elder McKinley: Sean Casey Flanagan
Joseph Smith: Trevor Dorner
Mission President: Trevor Dorner
Price’s Dad: Trevor Dorner
Cunningham’s Dad: Gideon Chickos
Missionary Voice: Trevor Dorner
Mrs. Brown: Trinity Posey
Doctor: Jarret Martin
General: Dewight Braxton Jr.
Guards: DeVon Buchanan, Justin Forward, Thomas Ed Purvis
Ensemble: DeVon Buchanan, Gideon Chickos, Jarius Miquel Cliett, Matthew Dant, Justin Forward, Craig Franke, Lars Hafell, Kisakye, Vance Klassen, Evan Lennon, Jarret Martin, Joey Myers, Alexis Ijeoma Nwokoji, Trinity Posey, Thomas Ed Purvis, Chelsea M. Smith

Directed and Choreographed by Jennifer Werner; Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements by Stephen Oremus; Set Design by Scott Pask; Costume Design by Ann Roth; Lighting Design by Brian MacDevitt; Sound Design by Chad Parsley; Hair Design by Josh Marquette; Orchestrations by Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus; Dance Music Arrangements by Glen Kelly; Associate Music Supervisor Justin Mendozza; Music Director Mason Moss; Music Coordinator John Mezzio


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