Friday, April 06, 2018

"The Book of Mormon" Musical Review

Throughout their storied careers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have never been shy about mocking the Mormon faith. Dating back to "Orgazmo" and the early days of "South Park," the duo declared their sneering contempt for the religion's scripture and cultural quirks. Always hidden just behind the mockery was a fascination that approached a gruding admiration.

"The Book of Mormon" musical could have been yet another cheap shot at Mormonism, but its jabs are tantamount to light, good-natured -- if forcefully sacrilegious -- teasing. The story, on the other hand, is an earnest tribute to the faith's growing power and influence, as well as the transformational power of its missionaries, who fearlessly venture into third-world countries and chip away at deficincies in infrastructure, education and resources.

The musical no doubt draws more curiosity about the book of which it shares the title as it does drive people away. The church plays along with the musical's capabilities as a prosthelytizing tool, taking out lighthearted ads in programs that beckon theatergoers to kindly check out the source material.

Whether crowds view the faith as an antiquated, straitlaced curiosity or a path to the kingdom of God, they'll be uniformly entertained by the wacky song and dance numbers, with lyrics bubbling with clever and foulmouthed turns of phrase. The musical is consistently entertaining and more than occasionally crack-up funny, with every touch channeled into crafting a shimmering spectacle of awkward satire.

Accompanied by the musical talent of Robert Lopez, who would go on to "Frozen" fame after creating this 2011 Tony-sweeping phenomenon, the material never misses an opportunity to use its sharp barbs as bludgeons.

The heedless flames not only torch Mormonism, but spread to engulf the people of Uganda as well. Serving as the setting for the majority of the story, the Ugandan people are dismissed as ignorant, gullible, godless and AIDS-plagued. With a piggish cultural insensitivity that borders on racism, more than a few laughs are guilty and discomforting.

Savvy stagecraft redeems the writing's missteps, but the overall feeling that Stone and Parker stretched a "South Park" episode or two's worth of material into a 2.5-hour stage production, leavened with unnecessary filler to stretch out the run time. As successful and radiant as the production is, there is creeping suspicion that the musical may pack the least amount of laughs per minute in the Stone-Parker CV.

Regardless of any shortcomings, the musical is a touchstone not to be missed.

Purchase tickets here.