It might seem a long way from South Park — that town full of filthy-mouthed kids — to the Mormon tabernacles. Yet the same two talents, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have made a hilarious spectacle of each. “The Book of Mormon” presents Stone and Parker’s sendup of the Latter Day Saints at work, and though the show first hit Broadway just three years ago, The New York Times has already called it “the best musical of the century.”
Ryan Bondy, a new player in the tour coming to Des Moines, says he hears the same.
“Everywhere I go, people tell me this show’s their Number One,” he said.
And Bondy has gone to more places than most. A Canadian, he’s played on either side of the border, and his tryouts for “Mormon” required repeated New York visits. At times, Stone and Parker sat in.
“They make a point of keeping up,” Bondy explains. “They care about the new people, like myself. They encourage us to bring originality to the role.”
The “creatives,” as Bondy calls them, also include the composer Robert Lopez. Together they saw the comedy in sending two fresh-faced Mormons off to Africa, serenely sure they will bring the savages to God and good hygiene. Yeah, right — and South Park is a great place to raise kids.
Overseas, the first song the newcomers learn is “Fuck You, God!” Their LDS mission proves a hothouse of closeted gays, and out in the jungle lurks General Butt-Fucking-Naked. To make matters worse, the “Elders” are mismatched: one wears a big L on his forehead, the other looks Most Likely to Succeed.
Bondy plays the straight arrow, handsome Elder Price. The role puts him through an uproarious comeuppance — yet the actor reminded me that his job was “to find the truth in the character.” He drew on his childhood church experience, and for him the show’s crucial moment comes when, in spite of the pounding he’s taken, he sings “I Believe!”
“That’s my fave among the Elder Price numbers,” he says. “There isn’t a single lie in the song.”
After that, granted, he rushes off to convert General Butt-Fucking-Naked. Bad idea, but Bondy insists that, in “a great ensemble show” like this, “there are no flat characters.” Everyone, he says, remains “integral.”
The company runs upward of 50 and includes a rock foursome. Bondy, who enjoys touring, makes the comparison to an earlier experience, crossing Canada with a cover band.
“Music has always been a big part of my life,” he says.
He understands how part of the fun, in “Book of Mormon,” is the way songs fall into familiar types: hard rock in “Man Up,” seductive soul in “Baptize Me.”
“It feels more like family,” he says, “the deeper I get into the show.”
In other words, this comedy should go on winning converts.
“The Book of Mormon”
Des Moines Civic Center, Des Moines Performing Arts
Tues., Jan. 6 – Sat., Jan. 10, 7:30 p.m.
Sat. Jan. 10, 2 p.m.. Sun., Jan. 11, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.