Would you buy a religion from this man?
Photo by Joan Marcus
In a moment that pretty much sums up The Book of Mormon, one of the young missionaries freshly arrived in the reality of Africa notes that "this isn't like The Lion King."
Oh, definitely not. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made a career out of crafting take-no-prisoners comedy, primarily through 15 seasons of South Park. They've shown a soft spot for musicals in the past with the film Cannibal! The Musical, and the South Park film was a thinly veiled celebration of the American musical.
The pair conquered Broadway with The Book of Mormon (with the help of Robert Lopez, the co-creator of Avenue Q ), and now have set out to conquer the rest of the country with a national tour of the show -- which plays at the Orpheum Theatre for the next two weeks.
The best elements of their previous work -- brutal, take-no-prisoners humor mixed with a genuine sense of wonder at the positive things people can make out of their lives -- are present, mixed in with a bouncy score that embraces the traditions of Broadway, while subverting it at every turn.
The musical follows two young missionaries, Price and Cunningham, who leave the safety of Salt Lake City for their mission to Uganda. There, they find a village ravaged by AIDS, riddled with poverty, and terrorized by a warlord who goes by the name General Butt-Fucking Naked.
Of the two, Price is the golden child, ready to save souls for the church, but it is Cunningham (and a ham-fisted interpretation of his religion's key text that includes characters from Star Wars and Star Trek and unnatural acts with a frog) who wins over the villagers.
The touring has a strong one-two punch in Mark Evans as Elder Price and Christopher John O'Neill as Eldar Cunningham. Evans is a classic musical leading man, with a sharp jaw and bright stage presence that matches his character perfectly. O'Neill comes from a comedy background and provides an anarchistic, outsider energy that also works well (though he needs to work a bit on his singing when he's alone onstage).
The show isn't afraid to make fun of anyone or anything, but does it so firmly in the traditions of the American musical theater that temper any nerves. We meet the villagers in a number called "Hasa Diga Eebowai." It sounds like your typical "sunshine in the face of adversity" tune (maybe even an outtake from the aforementioned Lion King, except here the song means "Fuck you, God").
Still, there is a heart here, with a message about friendship and finding faith in whatever you can. And there's a lot of love for the subjects from the authors, who include jokes about drinking coffee and having the "spooky hell dream" alongside the threats of murder and mutilation.
The Book of Mormon
Through Feb. 17
910 Hennepin Ave.
$39-$154; $25 pre-show lottery. Tickets are extremely limited.
For information, call 1.800.982.2787 or visit online.