Everything that you’ve heard about the musical “The Book of Mormon” is true.
I didn’t believe all the hype when all the accolades were first being heaped. I didn’t believe that something that was reported to be that offensive would ever have a successful run on Broadway, no matter how clever.
Yes, “The Book of Mormon” is outrageous, filthy and completely crude. It is also a very entertaining and brilliant bear hug to religion and to Broadway.
No doubt about it, “The Book of Mormon” will offend everyone. But honestly, what do you expect from Trey Parker and Matt Stone? These are the guys who have slaughtered many a sacred cow and pushed the power of satire to the limit with their highly successful “South Park” television cartoon and franchise.
As crass and as uncomfortable as the humor of Parker & Stone can get, it never ceases to be relevant. When you marry them up with Broadway vets — composer/lyricist Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”) and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw (“The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Monty Python’s Spamalot”), both with their own genius for jab and tickle — it becomes a perfectly matched plural marriage, creating a truly funny family.
The story begins at Mission time and the freshly scrubbed and eager Elder Price (Mark Evans) is anxiously awaiting his two-year-long assignment. Hoping for someplace fabulous, like Orlando, Price is instead sent to a remote village in northern Uganda. And if that disappointment wasn’t crushing enough, he is paired up with a schlub and misfit named Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill).
Over the next ridiculous two hours, faith is tested, devils are outrun, religious pageants performed and Latter-Day Mormon boys don flashy vests. All along the way, as the show pokes fun at organized religion, there is an underlying thread that smartly embraces its need, and celebrates it.
The cast is glorious, even heaven sent.
Evans’ golden tenor voice in the second act’s ardent anthem of faith “I Believe” is a visceral treat. Not only is the song breathtakingly and powerfully delivered, so is its sly humor. With a soaring, hymn-like melody that underscores lyrics which state his beliefs, it’s delivered unencumbered of sneer or ridicule, allowing a touching (and hysterical) appreciation to living with purpose.
Evans can move too. His glee is palpable and full-to-bursting when he dances. O’Neill proves a perfect comic foil as he worms in and out of every scrape with a lie and look that convulses the audience with laughter.
It’s early in the evening when our Mormon boys discover that “Africa is nothing like The Lion King” as Stanley Wayne Mathis and the villagers revel in their own Hakuna Matata, “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” This happy coping song has the former’s energy and zest of life, but its lyrics reveal a sting when translated. This song will not be sung for grandma at elementary school chorus concerts. Great fun.
Grey Henson and his supporting Latter-Day boys are hysterical as they demonstrate their battle with sin as they claim to “Turn It Off”. Alexandra Ncube as Nabulungi captures innocence and hope in her dream of somewhere that’s green with “Sal Tlay Ka Sitiand” and perfectly pushes double entendre to the limit with O’Neill in the joyful “Baptize Me.”
For those who have lost their faith in the art and skill of the Broadway musical, “The Book of Mormon” answers the prayers of the devoted and will collect new converts into the fold.