Josh Gad, Nikki M. James and Andrew Rannells of the Broadway “Mormon” cast. The New York Times.
By John Moore
Yes, the cheerful new Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” is that funny. And outrageous. And profane. It is also a razor-sharp satire. But mostly it is a heartfelt testament to anyone who has undergone a crisis in faith, and come out stronger for it.
It opens with a clean-cut, all-American missionary-in-training named Kevin, who is determined to go out into the world “and blow God’s freaking mind!” But his destination is not Orlando, as he prayed – it’s drought- and disease-ravaged Africa.
“Africa is nothing like ‘The Lion King!’ ” realizes his shocked partner Arnold, an overweight, socially awkward kid who lies – a lot.
And here’s the heart of the story: Mission success is measured in converts, but, as the play positions it, the real Book of Mormon could put a crack baby to sleep, so Arnold embellishes its teachings with lessons from “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars.” And in doing so, he captures the imaginations of the natives.
Yes, lying is wrong, but people have been bending sacred scriptures to suit their own purposes for centuries. And if that actually brings needed urgency and relevance to people’s lives, then what’s the harm?
While writers Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez break all the rules – their love for the rules of musical theater is evident in every joyous, witty note. This is a love letter to theater, with evident affection for everything from “Bye Bye Birdie” to “Godspell” to “The King & I” to “Little Shop of Horrors” to “Beauty and the Beast.”
Shocking? You bet. But the ultimate message is a wholesome one: Even if we question or doubt our beliefs, we can still work together to make things better.
I’m not sure how the savagely funny lines will hold up over time and repeated listens, but there’s no question “The Book of Mormon’s” place in history is set in stone tablets.
Quotable: “Jesus hates you, this we know, for Jesus just told you so” (from the song “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”).
Note: Press night for the national touring production’s debut stop in Denver is Aug. 19. But I’m not gonna lie: I’m not invited. The preceding comes from my Denver Post report: Broadway 2011: “Catch it if you can: From war horses to ‘War Horse,’ A roundup of a “season of substance”
Previous “Book of Mormon” coverage: