A sharp prologue begins a thread of outrageous re-enactments of Mormonism’s roots — and then follows a gleeful opening number, “Hello,” that depicts the regimen of door-to- door proselytizing: “Hello, my name is Elder Price/And I would like to share with you the most amazing book!” Rannells chirps, as a chorus in white shirts, black slacks and laminated name tags chimes in with doorstep come-ons.
Rannells and Gad are chosen to be partners and assigned to a posting as far from Orlando as might be imaginable. Their shifting fortunes in a blighted, disease-racked corner of Uganda, where the denizens sing a deceptively sunny parody of “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King,” become a running joke. It’s the unlikelier of the pair who finds his calling in Africa.
It’s easier, of course, not to feel stung by comedy when your background is not the one being gored. But even with the wallop of derision that Mormonism comes in for on this evening, the wider subject for ribbing is that almost unbearable brand of optimism Americans tend to want to impose on the rest of the world. “A Mormon just believes,” Rannells’s Price sings at one point, a lyric that also seems to hold true for a national mind-set, one that clings to a faith that American hearts always remain in the right place.
“The Book of Mormon” expresses a giddy contempt for that innocence, in one of the most joyously acidic bundles Broadway has unwrapped in years. (Applause, too, for set designer Scott Pask’s gloomy rendering of an African village.) The sin it takes such fond aim at — blind faith — is one that this musical suggests observes no religious bounds.
The Book of Mormon
Book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Directed by Parker and Casey Nicholaw. Sets, Scott Pask; costumes, Ann Roth; lighting, Brian MacDevitt; sound, Brian Ronan; orchestrations, Larry Hochman; music director, Stephen Oremus; choreography, Nicholaw. With Michael Potts, Lewis Cleale. About 2½ hours. At Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 230 W. 49th St., New York. Visit www.telecharge.com or call 800-432-7250.