Being a fan of the Comedy Central cartoon classic South Park and its creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone I was rather surprised when I found out they had taken on the Great White Way’s Broadway stage. If there’s one thing that’s certain: expected the unexpected when it comes to these two gentlemen. There sense of humor is outrageous, controversial, sometimes offensive, but always funny with a bit of tongue-in-cheek thrown in. The important thing to remember when it comes to Stone and Parker is they definitely don’t take themselves or the world too seriously. So who better to write a Broadway show about the Mormon faith and missionary work? I’m sure these gents aren’t the first to come to mind but they certainly have a bonafide worldwide hit on their hands.
The multi Tony Award winning play written by Stone, Parker and Robert Lopez has literally set Broadway on its ear. Considered by many fans and critics alike to be the funniest show currently running “The Book of Mormon,” certainly plays for laughs with outrageous and uncensored musical numbers, absurd situations, and down right brilliant storytelling. No one is immune to pokes and puns (including the All Mighty himself) “Mormon,” essentially tells the story of two missionaries sent out into the world for the first time to Uganda. Much to Elder Price’s dismay (brilliantly played by Mark Evans) he succumbs to ‘God’s Will,’ and heads out with his missionary brother, Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill). These two couldn’t be more different in their style and approach to their life’s mission. Price, an idealistic egomaniac is determined to leave his mark on the world by saving us all with the help of the ‘Good Book,’ and flashy smile. Cunningham on the other hand is certainly the duo’s comedy relief. The fact that he’s never even read the Book of Mormon is absurd in itself. His demeanor is sweet and innocent. Never mind the fact he’s a perpetual liar with a vivid imagination and is prone to storytelling.
Both Mark Evans and Christopher John O’Neill fit their roles like a glove and are a wonderful duo. The contrast between the two is what makes them work so well together and is appealing to the audience. Upon arriving in Uganda the men find this isn’t going to be the easy road to redemption they were expecting. Did I forget to mention Elder Price’s ultimate dream was to be assigned as missionary in Orlando? That alone is great fodder and lends itself to endless Disney jokes and ‘happiest place on earth’ site gags. The African tribe they happen upon and are sent to convert are as far from the Magic Kingdom as you can get. Riddled with poverty, violence and AIDS, the men are hit with a harsh dose of reality that in any other hands would be a downer. But remember, this is Stone and Parker we’re talking about. From the very first musical number “Hello!” it’s clear the show is going to be a no-holds-barred satirical force filled with a joyous noise. Many of the songs will make you snicker, blush, and are downright jaw dropping. “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” is infectious and extremely catchy complete with a colorful tribal dance number. It is the English translation of this phrase “F U God,” that had jaws dropping throughout the audience amidst loud bursts of nervous laughter. I myself had a ‘whoa’ moment on this one.
Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware) is our heroine of the tribe. Young, lovely, a bit cynical, all she wishes for is a better way of life. Samantha has a wonderful presence with a powerful voice to match. Her musical numbers are among the many highlights of the evening. It is her chemistry with O’Neill that adds the ‘sweet ah’ factor to the show. Their number “Baptize Me,” is filled with double entendre and is laugh-out-loud funny. It is O’Neill’s character Elder Cunningham not our shining star, Elder Price, which brings the tribe to the Latter Day Saints, converting them one by one. The problem: he’s never actually read The Book of Mormon. Making up stories as he goes along (remember he’s a liar with a wild imagination) his scriptures are filled with Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord Of The Rings references that hit a home run. Of course the occasional appearances of Dark Vadar, Yoda and Lt. Uhura certainly add to the site gags. Not to be outdone, Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler and Johnny Cochran have a wondrous musical number with the Satin himself in the number “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.”
The other missionary players are all outstanding and shine individually. Elder McKinley (Grey Henson) is a delight in his outrageousness as he tries to repress his own homosexual thoughts and desires. Using his full proof “Turn It Off,” method is silly, catchy and worthy of a belly laugh. The local warlord, General Butt-F***ing-Naked (Derrick Williams) is menacing as he parades his power with machine gun in hand and dark sunglasses firmly in place. Obviously this is not your typical Broadway show; musical numbers and characters notwithstanding. There is no other show on Broadway or anywhere else for that matter that is this original, funny, and relentless. No group is immune from Stone, Parker and Lopez’s sharp wit and lampooning. Race, sexual orientation, religious dogma, female private parts, and outrageous storytelling are on the menu for this show. The costumes design by Ann Roth is spectacular as is the musical direction by Stephen Oremus. The choreography by John Macinnis is spot on and inventive. I don’t want to give away everything and ruin the fun but I will say if you’re going to see “The Book of Mormon,” go with an open mind and be ready to laugh. This is one show you’ll never forget.