Third-run 'Mormon' still a raunchy delight

“The Book of Mormon” is back in town. Think of it along the lines of a third-run appearance before a movie makes its inevitable way to video - and in that, maybe just as satisfying as it ever was.

True, the ticket mania that surrounded the musical the first time around might have shifted to “Hamilton,” but “Mormon” is still very much worth seeing before it makes its own inevitable transition to movie musical. And this production even has a few new nuances for those who've seen it before.

Look around in the audience and you'll find it still makes people touch their fingers to their foreheads and laugh uncomfortably, when they aren't outright guffawing.

Glorying in Broadway conventions if only to undercut them, determinedly violating any and all finer sensibilities, “The Book of Mormon” remains rip-roaring good fun. And the version playing now at the PrivateBank Theatre downtown (if only they could find a way to lampoon that sponsorship name the way they skewer Starbucks without even mentioning the coffee company) benefits from Cody Jamison Strand, fresh from the Broadway company, who steals the show - and rightfully so - as seemingly second banana Elder Cunningham.

Strand has a body like the early cartoon renditions of Elmer Fudd, and he utterly occupies the needy, nerdy nebbish who appears to play second fiddle to Ryan Bondy's Elder Price.

For the uninitiated, they have a few gleeful early numbers making fun of Mormons, then are shipped out on their own two-year mission to - of all places in the world - Uganda.

As everyone should know by now, “Book of Mormon” is the work of “South Park” provocateurs Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez, and there isn't a sacred cow out there they aren't intent on grinding into hamburger. In addition to the scathing lyrics of their songs, this production throws in Coca-Cola logos, American-flag shorts, Michael Jordan Bulls jerseys and Che Guevara T-shirts, all of which have made their way to Africa, where they flourish along with every malady known to man or, in this case, especially woman.

Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) professes his faith to The General (David Aron Damane) in "The Book of Mormon." Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Trust me, this musical is never going to feature highly in the tourism campaign of Choose Uganda.

Disney occupies the central target, however, where the play's satire is concerned, with “The Lion King” coming in for multiple piercings, along with the song “Hakuna Matata” and, sadly and somewhat poignantly, Orlando given the gay undercurrent supplied by Daxton Bloomquist's Elder McKinley.

With all the other Mormon missionaries stymied by how to put their message of salvation across to these nihilistic natives, Elder Cunningham, already a confirmed fabulist, manages the task by adapting the tale of Joseph Smith to Uganda with the help of his own experiences drawing on the lore of “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

In that, he first converts Candace Quarrells' Nabulungi, and their ritual of baptism, ringing with the even more powerful initiation of first sex, is one of the high points of the production.

Compared with that, the supposed showstopper “I Believe” comes off surprisingly tepid. Perhaps that's because Bondy is equal parts Jim Carrey and Walton Goggins, but with neither's manic intensity. Although perhaps it's because of how anticlimactic and ineffectual it proves to be in the end.

Say "hello" to Elder Price (Ryan Bondy), star of "The Book of Mormon," now running at the PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago. Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Yet the African retelling of the Mormon story, “Joseph Smith American Moses,” brings the house down.

“It's just a bunch of made-up stuff, but it points to something bigger,” says Elder Price, and in that he's clearly referring to all musicals, ridiculous though they may be, and that remains a powerful meta moment amid all the usual Parker-Stone mockery.

So catch “The Book of Mormon” in the theater while you can, before it converts itself into a movie musical, because I believe that, with all the sexual and scatological references I've left out here, and in spite of the progress in tolerance and acceptance we've all made in recent decades, it will still be some time before it becomes a staple of high school drama departments.

“The Book of Mormon”

★ ★ ★ ½

Location: PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000,

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Aug. 14

Tickets: $45-$120

Parking: Nearby pay garages, some street and metered parking

Rating: Language, graphic depictions of sex, religious satire, not for children or even more sensitive or easily offended adults

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