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August 29, 2014

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Review: Energetic ‘Book of Mormon’ wins ovation at Smith Center; LDS Church buys program ads

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Joan Marcus

Monica L. Patton, David Larsen and Cody Jamison Strand in the second national tour of the nine-time Tony Award-winning “The Book of Mormon” now at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts through July 6, 2014.

‘The Book of Mormon’

The second national tour of the nine-time Tony Award-winning “The Book of Mormon” now at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts through July 6, 2014.

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David Larsen in the second national tour of the nine-time Tony Award-winning “The Book of Mormon” now at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts through July 6, 2014.

Click to enlarge photo

Denee Benton and Cody Jamison Strand in the second national tour of the nine-time Tony Award-winning “The Book of Mormon” now at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts through July 6, 2014.

There were no visible protests or audience condemnations for the controversial Tony Award-winning musical “The Book of Mormon,” which opened its nearly monthlong run Tuesday night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

In fact, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself may even have embraced the satirical four-letter-word production. In a good-natured gesture, the Mormon Church bought full-page ads in the Playbill theater program, saying tongue-in-cheek, “The book is always better” and “You’ve seen the musical, now read the book.”

I will at some point just to see if the play’s joke about absurd rule No. 76 does cancel out nonsensical rule No. 24. The audience was on its feet cheering and applauding before the final curtain calls began at the premiere performance.

There is plenty of offensive adult language, double entendres and in-bad-taste names I’m not allowed to write, but it was far less hard-hitting than it could have been — even with the extra-long, swinging-dildo dancing finale that had everybody laughing unashamed in the seats around me. How “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Oscar-winning songwriter Robert Lopez, dreamed that up will always be beyond me.

With tickets for the run at nearly sold-out notices, “The Book of Mormon” is assured of Las Vegas success, and doubtless some of our skewered Salt Lake City friends will sneak in to check it out — as uncomfortable as it might make them.

“Finally, it’s here!” an excited Smith Center President Myron Martin told me Tuesday night. “We’ve been waiting so long for its arrival. It’s a coup for the Smith Center to be on the national tour, as we were up against so many other venues wanting it.

“There are plenty of laughs, and our audiences won’t take offense. They’ll enjoy the satire and the humor.”

The youthful, full-of-energy cast is perfect in its portrayals of missionaries sent to Uganda to find recruits for the church among impoverished villagers fighting AIDS and other bodily illnesses too uncomfortable to write here.

Kudos to Cody Jamison Strand and David Larsen as the two lead missionaries for their enthusiasm and portrayals and to actress Denee Benton as the first of the converted villagers. Also to the orchestra led by keyboard conductors Susan Draus and Chris Sargent.

The ensemble Mormons look like the real thing with their shiny, toothpaste-commercial, star-kissed smiles. When they perform their Broadway musical dance routines with pink-sequined waistcoats over those trademark white short-sleeved shirts, you can’t help but laugh along whatever your theological view.

Look through the busted floodgates of the ridiculous overload of cuss words, shrug off the satire surrounding the golden plates and the third book of the Bible and find the meaning of love and concern for fellow man and woman. There’s a somewhat happy ending for those who really count and a comeuppance for those in their uptight suits cloaked in hypocrisy who really don’t.

Yes, it’s a slap in the face against all organized religion, but once you’re past the initial shock and into the fun of it, you’ve got one very enjoyable night of theater ahead of you. Try as you might to control yourself from eternal damnation, you will find your feet tapping along to some of the most outrageous song lyrics of all time.

If Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are rolling in their graves, I like to think that even they have smiles on their faces.

“The Book of Mormon” is playing at the Smith Center on Tuesdays through Sundays, dark Mondays, through July 6. Go to the Smith Center website for tickets and show times.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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