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Theater review: "The Book of Mormon," 4 stars

"The Book of Mormon" (Joan Marcus)

"The Book of Mormon" (Joan Marcus) Credit: "The Book of Mormon" (Joan Marcus)

The Book of Mormon
4 stars

Don’t expect to find any members of the Mormon faith protesting outside “The Book of Mormon,” a tuneful, unabashedly silly and absolutely uproarious new musical by Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

Assisted by “Avenue Q” composer Robert Lopez and “Drowsy Chaperone” director Casey Nicholaw, the “South Park” creators parody Mormonism while also celebrating the power of religion — any religion — to give people hope in the face of despair.

The story begins with Elder Price and Elder Cunningham — two male Mormon teens from Salt Lake City — finishing their missionary training and being shipped off to Uganda to try to baptize the inhabitants of a small village.

Once there, they learn that Africa is nothing like “The Lion King.” They are confronted with warlords, death, AIDS and famine. In a brilliant production number, the Ugandans explain their philosophy of “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” the translation of which cannot be printed in this publication.

Price, the cockiest student of his class, is disheartened by his inability to make a difference.

Cunningham, an outcast who has yet to actually read the Book of Mormon, impulsively starts to preach his own religious teachings that derive from “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.” His stories, designed to speak directly to his new audience, are surprisingly effective.

While the plot is somewhat thin and occasionally feels like an overextended sketch, the musical ultimately comes across as fresh, smart and heartfelt.

As you’d probably expect, the show’s potty-mouth creators do not refrain from using explicit language. But in spite of the curse words, “The Book of Mormon” is an upbeat, even sentimental musical that combines Rodgers & Hammerstein, “Les Miz”-style powerhouse ballads and tap dancing.

The cast, led by Josh Gad, Andrew Rannells and Nikki M. James, is uniformly excellent and marked by endless energy and enthusiasm.

If you go: "The Book of Mormon" plays an open run at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. 230 W. 49th St., 212-239-6200,

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