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Saints misbehaving: Praise for 'The Book of Mormon' at the Arsht Center

"The Book of Mormon," playing through Dec. 14 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, can be read at least three ways.

1. As a bona fide hit show that adroitly uses its badass reputation to camouflage that it is essentially an old-fashioned Broadway musical, complete with a tap-dance number and sweet sentiment.

2. As a whacked-out and perversely profane examination of faith that gets laughs (no, really!) from the unlikeliest of sources, including baby rape, warlords, genital mutilation, dysentery, AIDS and frog molestation.

3. A bordering-on-brilliant, but not so salubrious, meditation on the power of a good story. The musical-comedy's book references time-tested mythologies from "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" to "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Clash of the Titans," with a little "Epic of Gilgamesh" thrown in for good measure.

Irreverent? Yes.

Vulgar? Hire a babysitter.

Entertaining? Oh, God, yes, and then some.

We should expect no less from the creative team, which includes Trey Parker and Matt Stone of the four-time Emmy Award-winning animated TV series "South Park"; Tony Award-winning composer Robert Lopez, of the musical-comedy "Avenue Q"; and Tony-winning director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, of "Aladdin" and "Spamalot" fame. "The Book of Mormon" swept the Tonys in 2011, bringing home nine trophies, including the one for Best Musical.

The multilayered story is centered on Mormon missionaries Elders Price and Cunningham — the Abbott and Costello of the Church of Latter-Day Saints — who are sent to Africa ("oh, boy, like 'Lion King,'" one says). Strait-laced Price has a crisis of faith, and Cunningham, having never read the Book of Mormon, spices Mormonism up for the potential converts in an impoverished Ugandan village.

This is a new cast from the road tour that first brought the show to South Florida last winter for a run in Fort Lauderdale. This cast, which will also take the show Dec. 16-21 to the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, has the geeky enthusiasm of Up With People combined with the precision of "It's a Small World" animatronics.

As Elder Price, David Larson possesses a fusion-powered voice. As Elder Cunningham, Cody Jamison Strand is a delightfully unhinged spark plug of a performer. The surprise of the cast is Denee Benton, who plays Nabulungi, the closest thing the story has to a love interest. She is a winsome little thing with a lithesome voice that has emotional reach, which is saying something in the cavernous Arsht Center. On that topic, just as it did with its Broward County run last year, the show has some sound issues.

But don't let that stop you from hearing the good word.

"The Book of Mormon" will run through Dec. 14 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., in Miami. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and 1 p.m. matinees Sundays. Tickets cost $39-$150. To order, call 305-949-6722 or go to ArshtCenter.org.

Note: The producers offer low-priced lottery seats. A pre-show lottery will take place at the box office for each performance, making a limited number of tickets available at $25 apiece, payable by cash only. Entries will be accepted at the Arsht Center box office twohours prior to each performance. Each person will print their name and the number of tickets (one or two) they wish to purchase on a card that is provided. Ninety minutes before curtain, names will be drawn at random for the tickets. Only one entry is allowed per person. Cards are checked for duplication prior to drawing. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets. Limit two tickets per winner.

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