March 15, 2011

God's Favorite Musical?

If you saw South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut and Team America:World Police, you know that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone love musicals. And that these great social satirists can write great songs as well. When I first heard that they were collaborating with Avenue Q's Robert Lopez to make a Broadway musical about Mormons, I figured it would be either really bad, or mind-blowingly brilliant. I'm happy to say that The Book of Mormon is one of the best, funniest, filthiest, and wisest shows I've ever seen.
You walk into the Eugene O'Neill Theater and see the stage with a backdrop much like the Christus statue in Temple Square, Salt Lake City. The show begins and I already start giggling hearing the voices of Parker/Stone narrate. All I could think of was Cartman.

From the opening number to the "please-don't-let-it-end-yet" finale, I was at the mercy of its creators. It had me at 'Hello'. I have never laughed so hard, yet horrified at what I was laughing at. But at the most unexpected moments, you get insight into the human condition. I got teary-eyed a few times---no, not just from laughing. But from getting an emotional sucker punch.
The plot follows two young missionaries sent to Africa for two years. This is Josh Gad, who plays Elder Cunningham, young and insecure, with a penchant for telling stories. The pair gets a rude awakening to a world of AIDS, warlords, poverty, despair, famine. Their coming-of-age journey is interspersed with Joseph Smith's, the founder of the church. And of course, their story is told with that South Park/Avenue Q flair. Offensive? Is the Pope Catholic? Cuss words? Plenty. Broadway send-ups and Pop culture references?I was in geek heaven.
Andrew Rannells is Elder Price, the golden boy, confident in his abilities to spread the good word. The missionary companions' individual paradigm shifts during their assignment gives the show its sweet center. It's hard to describe the musical without ruining it for everyone. It was a wise idea to leave out the song list on the Playbill. All the better to surprise you with. It uses cheeky language, subversive humor bordering on blasphemy to make statements about keeping the faith and finding one's identity.
Nikki M. James plays Nabalungi, a village girl through whose eyes we see the world, and how the pair's missionary work changes that perception. The entire cast gives outstanding performances. Considering the material, I have no idea how they could stop themselves from cracking up.
Like any good satire, (or any South Park episode), it tells the truth. While this hysterical yet thought-provoking show seems to mock religion, it actually has plenty of heart to go around. For people of all faiths. Messieurs Parker, Stone, and Lopez, proselytize anytime you want. I'm listening.

The show opens on March 24. I prophesy Tony nominations for the show and the cast.


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