‘The Book Of Mormon’ may sound like it’s about religion but it’s not.
The protagonists of the play are a pair of missionaries who are sent to Uganda. Most of the laughs come from the two who are friendly Mormons. This is a play about contrasting reality with fantasy and making fun of everything and everyone as it goes. From having AIDS to Jesus to Race.
The play is offensive from a traditional standpoint: Profanity; sex jokes; blasphemy. It has all the things you wouldn’t expect. It is offensive because that is why the play was designed to be offended. Overall, it has a mixture of vulgar, nasty and comical reality on the absurdity of musical theater and the beliefs of one particular religion: Mormonism.
The two-and-a-half hour show is filled with humor just like I expected from the men who created Eric Cartman. It’s also filled with profanity. It’s not for people who may get offended very easily.
It’s a very different type of play which is why it’s fresh, it’s surprising and it’s hysterical. It’s full of cartoonish vibe.
The show opens up by the introduction of a group of Mormon missionaries. They are all split up into pairs and are sent abroad. The golden boy, Elder Price and the clumsy hysterical who is desperate for a friend, Elder Cunningham. The two are sent off to Uganda to spread the word of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
Africa isn’t the smiles-and-sunshine place our missionaries expected. The villagers have no hope. They have no water. They have no medicine to cure their AIDS. They don’t even have doorbells to ring. Their songs don’t smack of optimism but rather curse (hilariously) an unfair god. A despotic warlord (the booming David Aron Damane) threatens to kill or mutilate every one of them. In short: They have no use for our pair of plucky protagonists. Only one person is willing to listen, the young Nabulungi (the chirpy and endearing Denee Benton).
The story is as old as the musical itself: Dudley Do-Rights who are sent to teach ‘savages,’ but end up learning from them (and each other) instead. The time-tested tale is enlivened for a 21st century audience, however, with the crass humor of the gentlemen who brought us ‘South Park.’ That means self-awareness, sex with frogs, dysentery jokes and one poor sap with maggots in his scrotum (among the more tame jokes).
‘South Park’ fans may recognize Randy Marsh-like tendencies in voiceovers for Joseph Smith and Jesus. Or they may catch the very Kyle Broflovski-esque ‘I’ve learned something today’ moment. But Broadway fans will have more to relate to in the Tony-winning show. It pokes fun at itself and references shows from ‘The King And I’ to ‘The Lion King.’
The musical numbers are brilliant — they’ll make you laugh and you’ll be whistling them as you leave the theater. It’s one massive ensemble piece after another with characters from Jesus to Satan to Darth Vader sprinkled throughout. And the sets are clearly imagined by a duo accustomed to working in animation where the sky is the limit.
Of course, there are also countless potshots at Mormonism. But for all the criticism of the 190-year-old religion, the show is never cruel. Sure, the characters mock believers’ unflappable optimism and the faith’s Upstate New York origin story. The message is never anti-religion, though. Rather, it’s uplifting and spends just as much time mocking the musical genre itself.
Mormonism is simply a front to point out all the absurdities in life. And in mocking religion, the show is, in a way, endorsing it: If you need an absurd story to get you through the horrible parts of life, then by all means, have it.