CLEARWATER — Do you hear a doorbell?
Those clean-cut young fellows are back, selling their own irrepressible brand of hope wrapped up in The Book of Mormon.
That would be the musical, not the sacred text. For the third time in three years, the touring show is filling another large house (Ruth Eckerd Hall), then bringing it down with jokes about AIDS, dysentery, sex with frogs and random acts of murder.
Those kinds of numbers, anecdotally at least, seem to reflect a lot of repeat customers. Could a musical calculated to offend on every level, as co-authors Matt Stone and Trey Parker have done throughout their careers with South Park, be entering Deadhead country, an occasional anti-PC revival?
Possibly. There's nothing out there quite like this show, in which a group of earnest missionaries try to baptize impoverished residents of Uganda into a belief system they barely understand themselves. This production, just like the previous two and with many of the same cast members, is absolutely irreverent and laugh-out-loud funny in places.
But more likely, what draws people to see The Book of Mormon, are the same staples of feel-good theater underlying any popular musical. This show is really more about self-help than religion, a pep talk with unpredictable humor and recurring themes. Here are three of those messages that might be driving visitors to return, or maybe you to join them.
There is something audacious about hope, even when you have no right to be preaching it. Elder Cunningham, the missionary misfit (played once again by Cody Jamison Strand), really needs to baptize some Ugandans. He finds himself a bit ill-prepared for the task, however, given that he never got around to reading the Book of Mormon. Sensing he is about to lose his audience, Cunningham ditches the script and starts making stuff up. The self-help lesson: Doctrine may have its place, but doctrine that spans hundreds or thousands of years does not always plug in so well with the moment. So when in doubt, be here now.
You can screw up big time but not be an abject failure. In so doing, Elder Cunningham has made a colossal mistake for which he is condemned by church leadership. His traveling companion, Elder Price (Ryan Bondy), has a holy book jammed into an uncomfortable location in his body. Instead of fixing the flaws in their ministry, the pair decides to just own them. The self-help lesson: Other people, especially charismatic authority figures, don't determine your identity or self-worth. Only you get to do that.
"The only latter day that matters is tomorrow." The mess in which the missionaries find themselves is real. The "spooky Mormon hell dream" they have created out of those circumstances is not, just as Orlando and Salt Lake City fall somewhat short of paradise. This self-help lesson speaks for itself, and will likely ensure another set of tomorrows for this musical.
Contact Andrew Meacham at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.