Monday, November 07, 2011

The Book of Mormon


THE BOOK OF MORMON is an irreverent look at all things holy. It is the brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the conceivers of the animated television comedy, SOUTH PARK. Add to the mix, Robert Lopez, who co-wrote and composed the Tony Award winning AVENUE Q, and the result is a script that takes on organized religion and traditional musical theatre.

Why did they do the take off on Mormonism? According to the creators, they have a lifelong fascination with the religion. And, as becomes apparent in the script, they found a lot of subject matter to make fun of within the structure of the Latter Day Saints, including the golden tablets, the door-knocking missions of the clean scrubbed males of the clan, and the fervent attempt to convert the world populace to believers.

THE BOOK OF MORMON centers on the story of two young Mormon missionaries who are complete opposites. Elder Price, is a poster boy for the religion. He’s a clean scrubbed, pious, over-achiever. Elder Cunningham is a chubby misfit who has a flaw…he makes up imaginative tales when it strikes his fancy. Instead of being assigned to Orlando, Florida, where Price prays to be, the boys are sent to a remote village in northern Uganda, where a brutal warlord is threatening the local population. The natives are worried about staying alive, famine, poverty, and AIDS, while the Mormons are interested in saving their souls and making them converts. That’s not a good match for success.

So the stage is set for some of funniest songs since MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT. The song list includes: You and Me (But Mostly Me), Hasa Diga Eebowai (the translation is unfit to print), Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, Joseph Smith American Moses, and All American Prophet. These, and others, are contained in the best selling Broadway cast album in over four decades.

After nearly seven years of development, the show opened on Broadway in March 2011 to rave and vivid reviews. It was called, "the filthiest, most offensive, and—surprise—sweetest thing you’ll see on Broadway this year,” and “quite possibly the funniest musical ever.” Amen!

To say I loved the show is an understatement. I howled at the take offs on THE LION KING, THE KING AND I, WICKED, and all the other less-than-subtly inserted slams at Broadway shows. The irreverent Mormon inclusions from the Adam Smith-God tableau opening, to Christ’s commentary, to Elder Cunningham’s imaginative relating of principles of The Book of Mormon, are priceless. The song lyrics are clever. The music is catchy and ear pleasing.

The cast is marvelous. Josh Gad (Elder Cunningham) is hilarious. He is a bouncing bundle of hyper-active glee. Angelic looking Andrew Ranells (Elder Price) properly makes pious sincerity look like a burden to bear. He has a marvelous singing voice and develops a clearly defined character. Nikki James won the Tony for her role as Nabulungi, a young Ugandan girl, and well deserved it. The rest of cast is also excellent.

Casey Niholaw’s choreography is creative, using African movement, combined with rock infusion and tap dancing, to wow the audience.

If you are going to see THE BOOK OF MORMON there are some givens: (a) if you are an uptight religious zealot, you are probably going to be driven right out of the theatre, (b) if four letter words make you nutsy, you are probably going to go totally bonkers, (c) if you have a sense of humor, you may lose control of your bladder from laughing, and (d) if you love delightful music you are going to dig the score.

Capsule judgement: THE BOOK OF MORMON is one fun ride that takes on religion, the Broadway musical, life and strife, and comes out the winner. It’s a precious laugh delight.