"The Book of Mormon" at Bass

The Book of Mormon brings its blessings to the Austin stage

'The Book of Mormon' blesses Bass Concert Hall

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When edgy musical The Book of Mormon hit Broadway in 2011, the buzz was instant and enormous. Over the past two years, it has continued to draw diverse audiences — including people who don't normally go in for musicals — to the theater. Next month, The Book of Mormon will finally brings its mixed blessings — it's outlandish and inspiring, outrageous and thought-provoking — to Bass Concert Hall. 

Find it hard to believe that the two men behind one of the most outlandish animated series ever, South Park, collaborated to create a Tony award-winning musical about Mormons? Matt Stone and Trey Parker have actually dabbled in musicals since college; they collaborated on the film Cannibal! The Musical in 1993, four years before South Park debuted on Comedy Central.

Between the unusual humor and unconventional subject matter, The Book of Mormon hits all the key notes of a classic musical .

The two writers have said that they developed their fascination with Mormons and Mormonism when they were growing up in Colorado. It was that shared interest that inspired them to join forces with the co-creator of Avenue Q, Robert Lopez, to craft a production unmistakably stamped with their sensibilities. 

"It’s a unique show, period," said actress Samantha Marie Ware, who is touring with the production, in a telephone interview. Ware plays Nabulungi, an optimistic young African villager whom the show's Mormon missionaries want to convert. "As soon as it starts, it’s very different. If anyone has watched South Park, they know it is quite crude and sometimes really inappropriate, but at the same time they have these underlying realistic, sometimes political lessons." 

The Book of Mormon follows a similar sort of formula, though at times its humor makes South Park look tame. Its story follows two young missionaries who travel from Utah to Uganda, where they hope to convert people in a remote village by sharing their scriptures. They are met by resistance and the harsh cruelties that are part of everyday Ugandan life. Yet it's from just such tragedies — AIDS, famine, female circumcision — that Stone and Parker derive the musical's most comedic moments.

“We talk about these issues, and it's funny because it’s uncomfortable. When people get uncomfortable, they laugh," Ware explained. "Stuff like that, no one talks about it out in the open, but we will sing about it, dance about it, and that’s what makes it really funny. It’s very different from what people are used to. I think that’s what makes it so amazing." 

Between the unusual humor and unconventional subject matter, Ware said, The Book of Mormon hits all the key notes of a classic musical — not all that surprising, since its creators are huge fans of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

"You still have your classical numbers; we have a huge tap number, a huge finale," she said. "It’s still a musical, but it’s Matt Stone's and Trey Parker's humor, so it’s going to be very intense for anyone who isn’t used to it."

Besides being thoroughly entertaining, Ware said, this musical inspires contemplation. “A lot of people take very different things from it, whether it has to do with religion, or faith, or fitting in.”

Ware also shared what she took away from the musical when she first saw it: “Minus the shock value, I saw it as being very much about just being happy with where you are and what you are doing and having faith — not only in yourself, but in everything you do. It’s something that will change your life.”

The Book of Mormon opens at Bass Concert Hall October 1 and runs through October 13.  Ticket prices start at $39. A limited number of tickets will be offered for $25 at each performance (depending on availability) through a lottery. Lottery entries are accepted at the box office two and a half hours before each performance.