The Book of Mormon returns for another round of profane joy
Monica L. Patton, David Larsen, and Cody Jamison Strand
It's not surprising that the duo of Trey Parker and Matt Stone came up with something as delightfully profane as The Book of Mormon. The South Park creators have made a career — all the way back to Cannibal: The Musical — of being offensive at any cost.
It's also not at all surprising that The Book of Mormon is such a glorious example of a traditional Broadway musical. Sure, Lerner and Loewe may have never fallen to the lyrically blasphemous "Hasa Diga Eebowa" (translation: "Fuck you, God!"), but the songs here celebrate the tuneful traditions of the form. The score has plenty of meat of its own.
The Book of Mormon isn't a one-trick pony. It not only remains strong on repeated viewings, it actually gets stronger. Some of that credit can fall to the third member of the creative team, Robert Lopez. His credits include the hit Avenue Q, another show that mixes ribald humor with excellent lyrics and score.
The plot here goes back to two classic tropes. We have a mismatched buddy pair who act as fish out of water.
Elders Price and Cunningham are teens about to embark on their two-year Mormon mission. Price is the star of their training group. He hopes his hard work will pay off with an assignment to Orlando — his vision of heaven.
Cunningham is kind of a flesh-and-blood Eric Cartman, about as far from a star as you can get. He is inattentive, given to telling whoppers, and later admits to not really ever having read their faith's book.
They get sent to war-torn Uganda, where they find people far more interested in evading disease, predators, and the warlord General Butt Fucking Naked than hearing about a new religion.
So Cunningham uses his two principal skills — lying and not really knowing much about the Book of Mormon — to create an up-to-date version of Mormonism (complete with details from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings) that quickly attracts converts.
The bones of the story give Parker, Stone, and Lopez plenty of places to hang wildly comedic tunes and set pieces, such as Price's "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream," which features a heavy-metal devil, Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Johnny Cochran.
While The Book of Mormon is played for wall-to-wall humor, there is a heart hiding here. The budding relationship between Cunningham and villager Nabulungi is sweet. The baptism scene between them speaks to the power of faith in the face of a soul-crushing existence.
The production is a tightrope act, of course. Mining humor from someone's faith and real-world horrors is a dangerous game. The creators push and push but seemingly never go over the edge. Some of that can be credited to the cast — especially the young leads — who show great comic timing and, when given the chance, an ability to find the heart. That's what musicals have always been about.
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