The best thing about the new musical The Book of Mormon is that it is at the same time shocking and familiar. It is difficult to think of another instance where a musical so blatantly laughs in the face of religion—a topic best avoided in any social setting—and holds nothing back in terms of profanity and sexual humor. Yet even so, The Book of Mormon, while setting these precedents, is a beautifully constructed Broadway musical in a very traditional sense.
Written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the duo has made very public over the years their reverence of musical theater. Collaborating with Robert Lopez, co-writer of the Tony-winning Avenue Q, this musical-loving team has done the medium justice. With a story that follows two young Mormon missionaries to Uganda to spread the word of their faith, character traits and ambitions are established immediately and simply. Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) is a handsome, perfect Mormon disciple, determined to rise the ranks in the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) is a goofy, clueless loudmouth who just wants to make a friend and prove his worth to his parents. Audience, we have our newest Broadway odd couple!
Parker, Stone, and Lopez (who, from the sound of it, could open up a law firm if this endeavor fails), present their two heroes and their fellow Mormons as relentlessly cheery drones who have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to the logistics of their faith. It doesn’t matter how you or I perceive the Mormon community; this is the version that Parker, Stone, and Lopez have created for their show, and as a set of characters in a musical work of fiction, they are built on fantastic character devices. Elder Price, while presenting himself as selfless and good intentioned, possesses a dark, narcissistic desire for self advancement. Elder Cunningham, while appearing ignorantly blithe, struggles with a seed of doubt that grows stronger as the show progresses. And the missionary leader in Uganda, Elder McKinley (Rory O’Malley) surprises his homosexual urges so decidedly that he “turns it off like a light switch.” (Yeah, right!) Read more
To summarize this play would be missing the point. If you don’t understand it (which I didn’t), there is still fun to be had. But for a primer, it’s about a plotting mayor, played by Donna Murphy, who rules over a destitute town. A rock starts spouting water and people flock to the town to see it and the “mayoress” charges them for it. Suddenly, Raul Esparza arrives to sort out the town crazies and the mayor is out to arrest Sutton Foster for questioning the validity of the lucrative miracle. Read more