‘The Book of Mormon’: ‘South Park’ to Salt Lake
BOSTON – Broadway trembled when it was revealed that Trey Parker and Matt Stone – the creators of the groundbreaking but controversial “South Park” cartoon series – were planning a Broadway musical.
And soon it became apparent the duo’s first Broadway effort would be to splice and dice the Mormon religion. The anxiety factor tripled.
The resulting show – The Book of Mormon” – won nine Tony Awards in 2011 and a national touring production is now making its fourth stop in Boston at the Opera House.
Parker and Stone had the very good sense to bring onto the project Robert Lopez, co-creator of the smash-hit musical “Avenue Q,” itself one of the funniest and – at times – profane musicals in recent memory to share in writing the book and the score..
It is as un-PC as it gets, and yes, crude and rude and downright profane at times,. At least one of the character’s names can’t even be printed in this review.
It’s just what you’d expect from the creators of “South Park.” But it’s also executed with so much humor, cleverness and musical comedy skill that’s it’s hard to get too upset by what’s happening on stage. And, when it comes to Parker and Stone, at least you know what you’re getting into before you get into it.
As “Mormon” opens, a group of Mormon missionaries are set to receive their two-year overseas assignments, a big reason the Brigham Young football team always featured a grizzled bunch of 24 and 25-year-olds.
Elder Price (Kevin Clay) is a bit of rock star even before he knows where he is going off to proselytize. He has aced missionary training and while his dream destination is Orlando – which will allow for a hilarious later number called “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” – he is ready to shine wherever he goes.
With the possible exception of Uganda. He’s also paired there with Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson), a well-meaning but nerdy and clingy sort who wants to know: “Star Trek” or “Star Wars”?
The Ugandan village the missionaries arrive in is being crushed by unrelenting poverty and AIDS and a warlord who fancies himself a general and is out to mutilate women (Corey Jones).
That means father Mafala (Jacques C. Smith) is always looking out for daughter Nabulungi (Kayla Pecchioni).
Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are just what the villagers – who sing their anthem which can’t be translated here – need: Two cheery white guys with a story to sell.
A frustrated Elder McKinney (Andy Huntington Jones), the head of the local mission, is considering engaging in some un-Mormon-like behavior and is desperate for a few baptisms to show from his group’s efforts.
Then Elder Cunningham makes the fateful decision to “spice up” The Book of Mormon and make it more palatable to the Ugandans.
Nabulungi decides that Salt Lake City sounds a lot better than her present situation and conversion to the Mormon religion can help speed that along.
Elder Cunningham’s work ultimately backfires in a big way when the Ugandans present a dramatic re-telling of “The Book of Mormon” to church officials using the “added information.”
The score by Stone, Parker and Lopez is bright and bouncy from the opening number, “Hello!,” it works well in concert with the book.
Casey Nicholaw’s Tony-winning choreography has fun turning the Mormon stereotype on its head in production numbers where the missionaries will bump and grin in Chippendale-style dances.
Some of the more ingenious bits include the hilarious tap number “Turn It Off” and “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” when Elder Price, who in the process of abandoning Uganda for Florida, is cast into a particularly dark place.
The best production numbers are in the spirit of Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler” or the dancing seniors in walkers, also in “The Producers.”
This is the second time in two months that Nicholaw’s superb choreography and direction have graced Boston stages after last month’s “Aladdin,” also at the Opera House.
Parker, Stone and Lopez have a lot of fun with the history behind The Book of Mormon, including the prophet Joseph Smith (Ron Bohmer), and Mormonism’s somewhat convoluted relationship with other Christian churches, pretty much taking it apart piece by piece.
But they do make up for it by making the Mormon missionaries so relentlessly upbeat and likable that the net effect – if you can believe it – is actually positive.
If you don’t mind a musical skewering race, religion, sex, and the poverty of Third World countries and you liked “South Park and “Avenue Q,” “The Book of Mormon” welcomes you to the same zany, funny, oft profane world, live on stage. Buckle your seatbelt and take the ride.
The national touring production of “The Book of Mormon.” Book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker. Choreography by Casey Nicholaw. Scenic design by Scott Pask. Costume design by Ann Roth. Lighting design by Brian McDevitt. Sound design by Brian Ronan. At the Boston Opera House through Aug. 26. broadwayinboston.com