Do the creators of South Park deserve to be on Broadway?
After seeing their smash musical The Book of Mormon, I think the real question might be: Does Broadway deserve the creators of South Park?
The Book of Mormon isn't your typical Broadway musical based on a movie or on the collected works of a mediocre band, but an original, hilarious show-stopper that's the most fun you'll ever have in a theater.
Written by South Park scribes Trey Parker and Matt Stone along with Avenue Q composer Robert Lopez, Mormon follows two missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ ... of Latter-Day Saints. The dashing, cocky Elder Price (Mark Evans) gets paired up with squat Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O'Neill), a science fiction nerd/compulsive liar just happy to have a friend. Elder Price believes that if he's the best Mormon he can be, God will send him to his ultimate paradise for his two-year stint as a missionary: Orlando.
Well, they get dispatched to Uganda, where 80 percent of the people have AIDS and a one-eyed warlord (with an unprintable name) threatens to circumcise all the women. Not exactly Disney World (though it's close).
Elders Price and Cunningham must then try to convert the tribe, who don't immediately ascribe to the sunny outlook of the Mormons -- that is, until Elder Cunningham switches up the story a bit.
The writers lampoon the smiling earnestness of the Mormons more than anything else. The opening number "Hello" shows all the smiling, clean-cut missionaries training to ring doorbells and to introduce themselves to people who likely will just slam the door in their faces. The missionaries inform Elders Price and Cunningham about how they bottle up their frustrations and deep-seated emotional problems in lieu of a smile in the darkly humorous "Turn it Off." They're well-meaning and happy, which is probably why real-life Mormons don't seem to have a problem with the musical -- the Church even has three pages of ads in the playbill, one which says "The book is always better."
The quality of the music fits right in the Broadway canon alongside Rodgers and Hammerstein, except every song has three or four lines that make you laugh out loud. There are whimsical old-school Broadway tunes ("Two By Two"), rock anthems ("Man Up"), and knockoffs of The Lion King ("Hasa Diga Eebowai") and Annie ("Orlando"). The highlight is "Baptize Me," a slow song of seduction that skewers the implicit sexuality of baptism. The variety offers plenty of opportunity for the show's superlative choreography, which focuses on the juxtaposition of the exuberant over-dancing of Elder Price and the chubby gyrating of Elder Cunningham, both hilarious in their own rights.
"Parody" doesn't always mean "attack." Parker and Stone certainly don't shy away from picking apart religion -- the amount of references to Joseph Smith's suspicious gold plates confirm their relative ruthlessness. But they recognize the positive effects religion can offer, with a rational world view at the end that comforts the characters and the audience, who all clap and sigh as if to say, "Ugh, exactly! Why don't people realize this?" If you want to find out -- or you just want to have a rollicking good time -- see The Book of Mormon.
Regular tickets for The Book of Mormon are sold out for its run at the Boston Opera House. But the production holds a pre-show ticket lottery at the box office, where a limited number of tickets will be available for $25. For information, visit www.BroadwayInBoston.com.
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.