PLAYING AROUND

LIVING UP TO OBSCENE HYPE

Strand steals 'The Book of Mormon' as 'South Park' creators show mastery of hilarity and vulgarity

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The world is divided into two distinct groups: Those offended by The Book of Mormon and those still laughing at the jokes days or even weeks later.

If you're still not sure where you belong, consider:
• "F-You, Heavenly Father?! Holy, moley! I said it like 13 times!"
• "I know you're really depressed, what with all your AIDS and everything."
• "I can't believe Jesus called me a dick!"
• "I have maggots in my scrotum!"

I'm laughing as I type these, and you'll have to trust that they're even funnier when sung on stage than read off a computer screen.

With Mormons in the cross hairs, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the creators of South Park) are unrelenting. They skewer from every angle. They know God has a plan, and one of their stars believes "that plan involves me getting my own planet."

Stone and Parker have made a career (and millions) off vulgarity and sacrilege. They've pushed the line so far that most of the crowd at the Times-Union Center on Wednesday night — with a median age likely in the late 40s or 50s — was laughing far too hard to be offended. There's certainly a subset of Jacksonvillians who might find this offensive, but they aren't the type of crowd to spend $122 a seat to take a chance.

The stars of The Book of Mormon, David Larsen (as Elder Price) and Cody Jamison Strand (as Elder Cunningham), are a revelation. They're a classic oddball pair sent off to a village in Uganda to convert the locals while trying to avoid tribal warlord General Butt-Fucking Naked.

Elder Price's high-energy narcissism could easily go over the top in less skilled hands. Here, Larsen nails it. 

That gives Strand the chance to "Man Up" as Elder Cunningham. By then, he's easily won over the crowd, going from the awkward weirdo who's just looking for the Type-A Price to be his best friend to a plucky hero ready to share the Book of Mormon, even if he hasn't read it.

Stone, Parker and Robert Lopez weave references to The Lion King with The King and I and Return of the Jedi with Annie.

We also learn that those who commit sins "shall burn in the fiery pits of Mordor" and in Mormon nightmares, the demons wear ties.

But in a musical, you need a little romance, too, and TBOM delivers with the underdog Cunningham and Nabulungi (played by Candace Quarrels, the classic forbidden daughter. Cunningham has many pet names for Nabulungi — Nabajamba, Neosporin, Neutrogena, Necrophilia, the list goes on and on.

The chorus-line precision of "Turn It Off," the hilarity of "Man Up" and the envelope-pushing fun of "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" all deliver. Even a relatively weaker number like "I Am Africa" has its moments.

The last Artist Series' season ended with a thud in Million Dollar Quartet (Folio Weekly review: Mediocre Quartet). But the 2014-'15 season might go out with a bang with TBOM and I Love Lucy closing out the season on March 17-22.

Even when The Book of Mormon hits the same notes repeatedly, it hits them with deadly precision. 

You'll be reminded often that "Tomorrow Is a Latter Day" and that one man really does have maggots in his scrotum.

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