Arts & Culture

'The Book of Mormon' returns to Tampa

A few years back, a New York critic proclaimed that the century's best musical was "The Book of Mormon." Now that "Mormon" has been playing on Broadway for four years and touring the country for two, a lot more people have seen the show, and a lot of them agree with the critic's assessment.

Two national tours of "The Book of Mormon" are making their way around the country. One stopped at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa in 2013. The other will open a two-week run at the Straz Center on Tuesday.

The writers are Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys behind "South Park," and Robert Lopez, the co-composer of "Avenue Q" and "Frozen." The story's about two young Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda to seek converts. One of missionaries doesn't actually have the knowledge to preach the contents of the Mormon holy book, so he improvises, using a mixture of religion, pop culture and science fiction references.

"It ultimately has a very positive view of the Mormon religion," said David Larson, who plays Elder Price in the tour that's heading to Tampa. "I think a lot of people don't realize that. It actually makes more fun of Ugandans."

People who don't like to be offended should probably avoid the show, though. It's obscene and profane, and it makes fun of everything from pedophilia to Christianity.

But it's also has lots of very catchy songs and very funny lines, and it's ultimately so positive that it can almost be called uplifting. In a way, it's almost old-fashioned.

"It's built like a traditional musical in the way it's put together," Larson said.

Besides being great fun, Larson -- who has some solid Broadway credits under his belt but is on his first national tour -- said "The Book of Mormon" gives him hope for the future of theater.

"People are always wondering whether theater is a dying art," he said. "This is a show that brings young people into the theater. I can't tell you how many times people in their 20s have told me that this was the first time they'd ever come to the theater, and they loved it."

Details: Jan. 20-Feb. 1, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $66-$178.50 plus service. Information: 813-229-7827, strazcenter.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.

Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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