There’s a point, early on in the ‘Book of Mormon,’ where Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) and Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) have just arrived in Uganda – having already been robbed of their belongings and now in full-on culture shock – when a group enthusiastically embraces them and teaches them a feel-good song to make them forget their worries.
It is a song sung with joy and energy, and the entire village is participating, so both young men join in and lose themselves in the moment…until Elder Price decides to ask what the song means…
Now at this point in a review, there would usually be a ‘spoiler alert’ so as not to ruin the musical for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it, and then I – the writer of this article – would go on to divulge both the song and its meaning.
But I can’t. Really, I can’t. It’s that the song is so gloriously profane and hilariously blasphemous, that you have no choice but to sit, laugh and see where the play goes from that point; there is no leaving because you are in a whole new world – just like Elders Cunningham and Price – with no choice but to soldier on.
That world, so wonderfully crafted in song, verse and script by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, is one populated with more characters than a small town’s phone book. And it is familiar territory for both Parker and Stone, the minds behind the animated series ‘South Park.’
The biting social commentary served up on ‘South Park,’ and its companion movie aptly named ‘South Park: The Movie,’ are but the starting point for this musical. Whereas Parker and Stone have pushed the boundaries on their weekly show, and the movie allowed them to pretty much obliterate those rules; the same is done here – forever altering the notion of what a Broadway Musical is (was) and should be.
As a novice in the world of plays and musicals – but well versed in the previous worlds of Parker and Stone – I expected a certain level of humor: from physical to sexual to an f-bomb or two. The warning on the ticket ‘EXPLICIT LANGUAGE’ only seemed to confirm my suspicion that I was in for an awesome night of four-letter words and farts.
Like a bidder on the ‘Price is Right’ who lowballs the Showcase Showdown bid by tens of thousands of dollars and still wins, I was completely wrong…but in the best possible way.
The story is simple, following two Mormons on their mission; one straight-laced, the other a screw-up, both trying to do right by their parents, their faith and their upbringing. Under any other circumstances, it would have been a normal buddy/road picture – with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby singing that they’re ‘On the road from here to Uganda.’
But in the hands of Parker, Lopez and Stone, everything is supercharged, far beyond the ’11’ setting on any amplifier EVER owned by Spinal Tap.
The very issues of faith – what we believe, why we believe and what we do with that knowledge – are addressed in the most delightfully profane way. And done mostly in song. Hilarious, side-splitting, tear duct-emptying, nearly rolling-on-the-ground song.
Again, not to reveal too much, but when you have Hitler, Genghis Khan, two other very infamous characters and a chorus of skeletons and demons dancing Busby Berkeley-style in hell, while Satan rocks out on a Ronnie James Dio-esque guitar, if you’re not laughing – you’re probably dead inside.
And I haven’t even mentioned Jesus, Yoda, Darth Vader or the Ugandan Warlord whose name cannot be mentioned in polite company.
Every single song from the play is at once powerful and funny. Kudos to the cast for learning how not to laugh while performing the songs. And even bigger kudos to each and every one of those performers for their solid singing, dancing and acting from top to bottom. It is very evident they relish their parts as much as the trio had in creating them.
The sets, beautifully detailed and ever-so-third world, are accented by minimalist backdrops, except for the cartoon-like depictions of Salt Lake City and Orlando. This entire world is framed by a multi-colored replica of the exterior of the Salt Lake Temple, crowned by a replica of the Angel Moroni…who, at times, is brilliantly lit by the dual disco balls dangling over the audience. (Yes, I just typed disco balls and the Angel Moroni in the same sentence…another reason to see this show.)
As I sat, sides aching from laughing, what little time I had to think was preoccupied with the execution of the entire show. A crazy mash-up of real life, lots of South Park, with doses of Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, History of the World: Part 1) and some Monty Python thrown in as well. Toss in a couple of mega-dance numbers and even a tap-dance spectacular, and you’ve got the most unique, funny and honest shows ever.
It’s all a wonderful and strange trip, heavily spiced with every bad word you’ve ever heard (and even some you may not have) in melodious combinations, sung and acted by a cast that is talented, energetic, and so fun to watch as the entire show envelopes the audience.
Those who left early, offended by the first act, missed out on an awesome second act and the larger payoff. Stone and Parker have these kickers in almost every show; but delivered on the stage, by these actors, it has a strange, sweet resonance.
All that makes us human is nothing without our beliefs, and those beliefs – once put into play – can make the world a better place.
In the end, we’re all drawn into Elders Cunningham and Price’s world and we’re all chanting and clapping, because they are truly, finally happy. Just as we are when we leave the show.
For ticket information on the Book of Mormon, click HERE