Jackson County, Missouri, which forcibly evicted its Mormon population way back in 1833, is now hosting an exceptional production of the smash Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, at the Music Hall in downtown Kansas City.
The stage play focuses on a group of young Mormon men who have just finished their training to become missionaries. The nineteen-year-olds, now officially called "elders," are paired up and assigned to exotic locales like Norway and France where they will spend two years knocking on doors and trying to recruit new members to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
But two of the young men are not so lucky in their assignments. Elder Price fancies himself a leader and has dreams of becoming a missionary in Orlando, Florida. He is young and good looking - and full of hope and promise. His newly assigned partner is Elder Cunningham, an out-of-shape and somewhat needy individual who has a penchant for lying. Elder Cunningham knows that he is a follower. The unlikely pair of misfit missionaries find themselves assigned to work in Uganda - and not downtown Kampala, but the very rural and dangerous District 9 of Uganda.
The backwoods Uganda of The Book of Mormon is a far cry from the picture-postcard Africa of The Lion King, and it is geared toward a more adult audience. Not only are religious fantasies ripped open and explored in depth, they are done so amid language so salty that it would embarrass a wide swath of the civilized world. The Uganda portrayed in this play is steeped in brutality and fear and insane medical practices such as female circumcision and the notion that AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin - and since the only virgins left in the community are infants, well . . .
This is not a show for children. One of the running gags is the local doctor declaring "I have maggots in my scrotum." Boxer shorts bearing that slogan were on sale in the lobby of the Music Hall.
The songs and dancing, including some tap, are first rate, and, in the end, members of the audience are left with a sense of how new religions take root and flourish in society. The Book of Mormon is, despite profane and vulgar trappings, a romping, stomping good time.
Welcome back to Jackson County, Elders. Take off your ties and stay awhile!