Monday, Apr. 25, 2011

The Book of Mormon (2011 Broadway Musical)

The breakout hit of the Broadway season, and a sure shot for a Best Musical Tony, is the latest offspring of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's fascination with Mormonism, earlier expressed in the film Orgazmo and the South Park Season 7 episode "All About the Mormons." Growing up in Colorado, Parker and Stone met many Latter-day Saints and formed the opinion that the basis of the Mormons' religious doctrine was nuts but, since the people were decent and friendly, who cares? The musical sends two ill-matched young missionaries — upright Elder Price (Andrew Rannels) and fat, sloppy but no less enthusiastic Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad, a bundle of Zack Galifiankis–type energy and neurosis who can also sing) — to a festering part of Uganda, rife with famine, AIDS and civil war.

The musical's book, by Parker, Stone and Avenue Q's Robert Lopez, is far less rude and iconoclastic than most episodes of South Park — a fact that disappointed some of the TV show's fans. The shock The Book of Mormon provides is unabashedly retro: it wants to be, and is, a glorious old-fashioned feel-good musical comedy, choreographed and co-directed with unerring pizazz by Casey Nicholaw. Its central number, an uptempo spiritual called "I Believe," suggests that Mormons will believe almost anything, because — because they're Mormons. In that sense, Parker, Stone and their ultraenthusiastic company have turned nightly audiences into Mormons, because it is now fashionable to believe that there is a future for the Broadway musical.