Excitement and anticipation grew in the Eugene O’Neill Theater as the sold-out crowd anxiously waited for the curtain to rise on one of the hottest tickets on Broadway, The Book Of Mormon. As a fan of the rude, crude and utterly hysterical duo that is Trey Parker and Matt Stone, my bar for the overall content of the show was set rather high. Add into the mix Robert Lopez, the composer of Avenue Q, and it was almost written in stone—or gold plates—that the show was going to live up to the hype that it’s been creating since opening up in 2011.
From the first ring, “Hello” captivates and greets the audience as characters are introduced, including our protagonists Elder Price (Matt Doyle) and Elder Cunningham (Jon Bass). After graduating from the Missionary Training Center, Price is sent off to Uganda instead of the land he holds near and dear to his heart, Orlando. To add some salt into the wound is bleeding Price dry, his mission brother is none other than his aloof classmate, Elder Cunningham. Cunningham’s love of sci-fi (and mashing it up with Mormonism) is clear from the start as he and Price board a plane for Africa with his Star Wars backpack in tow. As our dynamic duo arrive, they’re struck with misfortune, as their luggage is stolen and taken for the General, who has a name that still provides a hearty laugh every time I think about it. When they arrive to the village, the natives teach our “soldiers of the army of the Church of Jesus Christ…of Latter-Day Saints” an adult version of The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata.” The tribal number “Hasa Diga Eebowai” latches onto Cunningham and leaves Price in sheer terror when the meaning of the phrase is unmasked. It’s there that we meet the young Nabulungi (Nikki M. James). Despite never being able to really pronounce her name right and calling her anything from Neutrogena to necrophilia, Cunningham takes a certain interest in the girl and creates a sure awe factor.
Shortly after, Price and Cunningham are taken to the mission house to meet the other Elders. In the flamboyant number about the unimportance of emotions, “Turn It Off” is a snazzy, innovative, and one of the standout songs in the show. Elder McKinley (Rory O’Malley), who leads the piece, is an unforgettable part of the show. At times, O’Malley’s portrayal of McKinley outshines that of the leads. Sadly, O’Malley’s run in The Book Of Mormon recently ended, as he performed his final show on Jan. 27. While the number ranges on and each Elder goes through something they “turned off,” a jazzy tap-dancing break shines through with added help of the 1986 hit, The Clapper. At around the third, maybe fourth clap—I lost count from laughing so hard—the Elders appear as fabulous as ever in sparkly pink vests. Act One ends with the touching “I Am Here For You,” the song that seems to strengthen the bond between Price and Cunningham.
Act Two begins by telling the story of Joseph Smith, the All-American Prophet. The Elders try to sell the Mormon religion to the Africans, almost like how one would sell things on tv, with Cunningham being the hype-man and Price being the spokesperson. It wouldn’t be a Parker and Stone production without lewd humor right off the bat. We come to learn that one of the villagers, who is also the village’s doctor, has “maggots in his scrotum.” Hope is given to the young Nabulungi, and she sings about salvation in a magical land during her ballad “Sal Tlay Ka Siti.” Despite being a sweet and dreamy number about a desire for a better life, the audience couldn’t stop laughing at the pronunciation of what should be Salt Lake City—as in Salt Lake City, Utah. Price runs off after seeing how futile his efforts have been, and gets swept up in a “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” It’s here where South Park enthusiasts can see a bit of a similarity between what Stone and Parker depict as Mormon Hell and the hell that is shown in the duo’s popular series. Despite the lack of Saddam Hussein, Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler, Genghis Khan and Johnnie Cochran all make an appearance to add emphasis that their crimes were far less severe than leaving his mission companion. Even Jesus makes an appearance and gives Price a piece of his mind!
Meanwhile, Cunningham is using his love of sci-fi to help encourage the natives to convert by weaving a web of lies together with American Mormonism to give the Ugandan people a glimpse of hope that if they convert, their problems will be solved—with some help from the Hobbits and the Starship Enterprise. Faith is once again restored in Elder Price, as he returns to try to convince the General to convert and stop his heinous ways, which only leads to Price walking a bit funny afterwards. The play comes to a close with the feel-good closing number, “Tomorrow Is A Latter Day.” The somber community piece picks up and ends The Book Of Mormon with some real good advice that tomorrow is a different day.
By the time the musical was over and it was time for the cast to take their final bows, there wasn’t a person sitting. The Book Of Mormon lived up to the rave reviews it’s been receiving, and I see many more in its future. Crude humor, singing Mormons with some geeky references thrown in; what’s not to love? If you’re able to get tickets for the show, go and prepare to be in stitches the entire time.