Photo. Joan Marcus
It is commendable, but not surprising that the Mormon Church took the high road when reacting to this satirical musical about their religion. The potty-mouthed satire of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (co-creators of South Park) and Robert Lopez (co-creator with Jeff Marx of Avenue Q) is too ridiculous to cause any harm to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Often fun, more often obscene, the combination of satire and sappiness is too incongruous to be classed as great. It is loud. It does poke fun at such other musicals and singers as The Lion King and Bono. But it could hardly be called incisive or consistently witty, except for those who find monstrous parodies of erect penises and loud repetition of “I have maggots in my scrotum” knee-slappingly funny.
While Parker et al can be amusing, their talent to amuse does not approach the rapier wit of Noel Coward or David Mamet.
Having said this, it must also be said that the high-energy show is greeted with delight and occasional slightly embarrassed giggles from audiences. (Maybe they have never heard the F word before. They certainly won’t have come across a character called General Butt Fxxxxxx Naked.)
Beginning with the graduation of new missionary elders at a Mormon training centre, the star graduate, Elder Price, whose dream is to be sent to Orlando, Florida, is paired with the most unlikely and very needy near failure of the group, Elder Cunningham. The odd couple is sent to a remote village in Uganda rife with poverty and AIDs to proselytize and convert the local population, only to find that the missionaries already in place are batting zero.
The narcissist and the nerd go about their business and, with the expected Disney-style twist, winners and losers are turned about. The nerd even gets the girl in a baptism episode that is a euphemism for sexual initiation.
The best news about the Broadway Across Canada production of The Book of Mormon is that the performers in the key roles are first class. Nyk Belak as Elder Cunningham and Jonathan Cullen as Elder Price are a highly effective duo and the bell-toned Alexandra Ncube as Nabulungi is a constant delight. Grey Henson as the gay head of the mission centre and Corey Jones as the swaggering General BFN have fun with their roles.
Spritely direction and bright choreography by Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw keep the Book of Mormon rolling along, even through occasionally offensive, often tasteless or completely silly scenes. The music, catchy while in progress is quickly forgettable. The lyrics, on opening night at least, were often inaudible.
The Book of Mormon, wavering as it does between highly imaginative, satire with a blunt knife and sentimentality is entertaining while in progress but not worthy of all the hype and Tony awards it has garnered since it premiered on Broadway in 2011.
The Book of Mormon
Book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
Broadway Across Canada