If organized religion can be considered a sacred cow, consider “The Book of Mormon,” a delightfully cheery butcher shop.
There is nothing held sacred in the bouncy and peppy musical, brought to the stage by the creators of “South Park” and “Avenue Q,” and the results of the show were a festival of wit, full of pearly white smiles, pearly whiter short sleeve button up shirts, jet black ties and some delightfully rhythmic cussing. As in, like, hella cussing.
The production, now running at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco through June 27th, is heavy on laughs and heavier on irreverence, a searing brand of satire made famous by the two guys that brought the world South Park, Colorado and their infamous fourth grade residents Stan, Cartman, Kyle and Kenny.
“The Book of Mormon” focuses on the trials and travails of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, two dudes with seriously sunny dispositions who await with bated breath the decision where they will be sent on their Mormon mission. Elder Price (a delightfully vain turn by Billy Harrigan Tighe) dreams of soul-saving glory, and, if he prays hard enough, will be able to bring the good word to the mean streets of Orlando, Florida. Elder Cunningham (An appeallingly sloppy A.J. Holmes, who was also wonderful as Henry in San Jose Rep’s “Next to Normal”) has dreams much purer than that, quick to remind us that when times are tough, “Tomorrow is a latter day.” He is thrilled to be paired with Elder Price, his best friend. You know, the best friend he just met the day before, and the best friend who cannot leave his side according to mission rule number 72, except when nature calls and a toilet answers.
Well, Elder Price’s prayers weren’t exactly answered, because now, instead of bringing Mormonism to Main Street USA at Disney World, the young ideal charges are sent to northern Uganda. Their perception of Africa is built on the Broadway musical “The Lion King,” but the reality for them is harshly different.
The Uganda they come across is loaded with poverty, famine and AIDS. And despite the harsh conditions that are placed upon them, the villagers remain optimistic. They are led by Mafala Hatimbi (an authoritative Stanley Wayne Mathis), who introduces the elders to their new home. He also introduces the elders to the various characters who will become the targets of conversion, including a man who is constantly dealing with bugs in the genitals.
Hatimbi also has a lovely daughter Nabulungi (a wonderfully sunny and lovely Alexandra Ncube), who he warns that if they make a wrong move with her, “I will give you my AIDS.” That threat does not apply to butchering her name, which Elder Cunningham does with aplomb (Jon Bon Jovi, Neutrogena and Narcolepsy, to name a few). In addition to this turmoil, the village is dealing with War Lord General Butt- F**king Naked (Corey Jones), who is obsessed with female genital mutilation.
But wait, there’s more!
I haven’t even talked about the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” complete with all the horrible things in history, like Bono from U2, and of course, the purveyor of all things evil, Starbucks. There’s also a song, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” sung in the style of “The Lion King’s” “Hakuna Matata,” but the lyrics certainly don’t mean “Don’t Worry.” More like a very strongly worded blaspheme towards the man upstairs, but sung in the most joyful of ways!
If someone is not fully aware of the biting satirical rogues that are Trey Parker and Matt Stone, or have ever seen how puppets make love via songwriter Robert Lopez, they will certainly be shocked to see how religion is taken on. I have long been a “South Park” fan and loved “Avenue Q,” so my sensibilities were not experiencing the shock and awe that others might have. Still, “The Book of Mormon” is wonderfully witty, hilarious, and does not hesitate to question the way believers believe, going right at sacred conventions such as Joseph Smith and the golden plates, which were returned by Smith to the angel Moroni, never to be seen again.
While there is plenty of material in the show that may be hated by many, what I cannot deny is the show is so much fun, and even many times acts as a perverse love letter to musical theatre, with many big time power ballads and show-stopping numbers. The score has touches of “Les Miserables,” “Wicked” and “The King and I,” with a hilarious send up of the history of Mormonism, inspired by Elder Cunningham’s horrible teaching ability and lack of knowledge on the book of Mormon, which he never actually read.
So many of the show’s most well-known numbers soar to heavenly heights in the production. The delicious, sharply timed opening number “Hello,” is hilarious and tightly, harmoniously sung. The aforementioned “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is all kinds of wrong, but all kinds of funny. “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” sung by Ncube, is delightful, seemingly inspired by a number such as “Somewhere That’s Green” from “Little Shop of Horrors.” A personal favorite, “Turn it Off,” turns quickly into big Broadway romp, a number that is one helluva singing and dancing showcase that incorporates non-sequiturs such as the Iphone, gay thoughts and dealing with a Utah Jazz loss. And certainly, the tune “Man Up,” which is nailed in a big way by Holmes, who is inspired by nails.
“The Book of Mormon,” no doubt, won’t be for everyone. But it is certainly for those who are believers who have ever doubted. It’s also for those who really, really like some good f***ing laughs.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
SHNSF presents “The Book of Mormon”
Book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
The Word: It is big, brash, all kinds of wrong, but oh so right. A hilarious Broadway musical with big, show-stopping numbers and laughs aplenty
Stars: 5 out of 5
Through June 27th
The Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market St., San Francisco, CA
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Tickets range from $60 – $210
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com