In all its raunchy audacity the national tour of The Book of Mormon lands in Philadelphia for six weeks. The Tony Award winning show still is generating a lot of controversial steam. The Book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, creators of Comedy Central's South Park, do not dilute their caustic humor that still has apparently has huge crossover appeal with multi-generational audiences. Who knew.
The exuberance of the first number "Hello" with the virginal missionaries practicing their skills ringing strangers' doorbells introducing The Book is infectious, kitschy fun. Things go very South Park from there. The writers take no prisoners in lampooning the beliefs of the Church of Later Day Saints, and truth be told, allegorically all religion, not to mention the current brand of Disney-ized musicals from Wicked to The Lion King. (photo: courtesy of BOM National Tour)
The story of super Mormon student Elder Price, but is buddied up with the dorky Elder Cunningham and they are packed off to Uganda where the other missionaries have had no success in converting the Ugandans. Havoc ensues as cultures collide. The Ugandans couldn't be less impressed with the missionaries or their exuberance, they are instead, just a bit preoccupied with more pressing matters like abject poverty, AIDS and being at the mercy Butt Fucking Naked, a local warlord, who among other atrocities, is about to have all the women in the village submit to female circumcision because the clitoris is evil.
No worries Mormon boys. Elder Mckinley schools them on the importance of not questioning faith in their mission and dealing with anything unpleasant that doesn't fit into the Mormon way. Take same-sex desires, just as a for instance.
Later Price can't take it and has "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" has demons in sequined top hats and pitchforks and Lucifer playing metal. But the easy fibber Cunningham the Ugandans fantastical stories of church history which somehow involves founders of the Mormon Church, Jesus, Tolkien characters, frog sexual abuse and escapees from the Starship Enterprise. The villagers act out their interpretation of his fantasies for Price's dad (and Mormon officiate) who freaks at phallic accessorized costumes and dysentery jokes.
Parker, Stone and Lopez don't go out of their way to avoid stereotypes, but as in South Park (and Lopez's other hit musical Avenue Q) it's a deliberate part of the disarming shtick, they get around to offending everybody equally. But, some of Mormon's material is definitely cringe-worthy. Aside from stereotypes, musical comedy dealing with such serious subjects as genital mutilation and AIDS can get creepy very fast.
The score is Broadway generic and except for "Hello" completely unmemorable, but it does provide strong moments for the leads. Strong direction by Parker and Casey Nicholaw, keeping things moving when The Book veers into some tight corners. Nicholaw's choreography is ensemble tight and show dance inventive
Grey Henson dazzles in the "Turn it Off" hoofer number with the missionaries magically donning pink vests and Henson hilariously releasing his gay gypsy dancer faster than you can say sequin. The soaring vocals of Alexandra Ncube makes you believe the preposterous story of Nabulingi the daughter of Mafala Hatimbi (underplayed hilariously by Stanley Wayne Mathis) wanting to go to the Mormon promise land. C.J. Eldred, as the vain Price has the most dimension, a triple threat belter, is equally sweet. Christopher John O'Neill is completely South Park lumpy as the awkward and lovable Cunningham. Like South Park, no matter how serious the subjects, way down deep, this is gleefully shallow.
Book of Mormon runs at the Forrest Theater in Philadelphia through Sept 14