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The Book of Mormon

Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone have crafted a wonderfully zany and potty-mouthed tuner that follows two Mormon boys on a mission to Uganda.

By New York City
Rema Webb, Andrew Rannells, and Josh Gad
in The Book of Mormon
(© Joan Marcus)
Rema Webb, Andrew Rannells, and Josh Gad
in The Book of Mormon
(© Joan Marcus)
"Irreverent" is probably too mild a term to describe the new Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, now at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. However, "inspired," "hilarious," and "oh-so-much-fun" remain on target.

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have teamed up with Avenue Q's Robert Lopez (they're all credited with book, music, and lyrics) to craft this wonderfully zany and potty-mouthed tuner that satirizes not only Mormonism, but also any semblance of political correctness. Along the way, it also pays dubious tribute to quite a few Broadway shows such as The Sound of Music, The King and I, and most especially The Lion King.

Indeed, one of the highlights of the musical is a parody of that latter show's "Hakuna Matata" which features a supposed African catchphrase that translates into something unprintable, but most definitely does not mean "no worries for the rest of your days." The Book of Mormon's catchy score also includes songs about the history of Mormonism, the virtues of lying, and the way to go about repressing homosexual urges.

The show's storyline follows the misadventures of Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) and Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad), who embark on a mission to Uganda that does not go at all as they imagined it would, particularly after they get caught in the middle of a conflict between a fanatical general (Brian Tyree Henry) and the villagers whom the Mormons are trying to convert.

Rannells is wonderfully charismatic as the clean-cut golden boy who becomes disillusioned by his experiences in Africa. He also shines in his soaring power ballad that describes his Mormon beliefs -- which are all based on real Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tenets such as that the Garden of Eden was located in Jackson County, Missouri and select Mormons will get to rule over their own planets. Gad has terrific timing and a slovenly comic presence.

Nikki M. James delights as Nabulungi, the naïve young African girl who becomes the Mormons' first convert, and Michael Potts also delivers a strong turn as Nabalungi's father, Mafala Hatimbi. Rory O'Malley is a hoot as Elder McKinley, who heads the Mormon mission in Uganda and who leads his fellow missionaries in several of the show's funniest songs.

Choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who also co-directed the show along with Parker, has crafted some amusing and energetic dance sequences that are brought to vibrant life by the talented and game ensemble. The production is also chock full of campy pop culture references that include the hobbits from The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars' Darth Vader, all of which get an added visual snap from costume designer Ann Roth.

Yet, despite the show's off-kilter sensibility and boundary-pushing language, the musical's narrative structure is surprisingly traditional. Elders Price and Cunningham are a prototypical odd couple who inevitably part ways in a heated moment, go on separate journeys of discovery, and then reunite to form a stronger bond than they had previously. This adherence to a tried-and-true comedy formula is also probably the reason why the show is more likely to inspire laughter than outrage -- even though I'd still probably recommend that the more easily offended stay away. Maybe they can get tickets to The Lion King, instead.


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