When I heard about Trey Parker & Matt Stone adapting the Book of Mormon for the Broadway Stage – I was nervously excited. This could be the most engaging musical ever, or it could be a complete train wreck. Surprisingly, it’s neither.
The Book of Mormon Musical is a straightforward song and dance production peppered with a few coarse jokes, lots of bad words, and primarily forgettable tunes. Casey Nicholow’s energetic choreography is the highlight. Several of his numbers fully realize the absurd juxtaposition of Mormons on Broadway. It’s quite a sight to see a dozen missionaries, donned in white starched short sleeve shirts and black slacks, dancing in unison. These moments are simply terrific.
Also terrific are the actors. Josh Gad, in particular, establishes himself as a Broadway Seth Rogin – funny and sympathetic. He may be the find of the show.
The book has an inspired premise.
A Mormon missionary, Elder Price (Andrew Rannels), hoping to be sent to Orlando for his mission, is instead sent to Uganda. There he finds natives stricken with AIDS and starvation, reluctant to embrace the healing power of Joseph Smith’s book. Prices’ co-missionary, Elder Cunningham (Gad), starts making up a new version of the Book of Mormon that proves more effective in gaining converts.
It’s all rather silly and mostly harmless fun. None of the bites of South Park or Team America is here. All the jabs are relatively harmless and perhaps a bit overly respectful of religion and Mormonism. Even the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream (a highlight) song is about hell, so how offensive can that be?
That was my frustration with the show. The Book of Mormon Musical wasn’t a genre-busting, edgy, and polarizing Broadway production that challenged its audience. That’s what I was hoping for.
The biggest challenge for the audience is getting a ticket, as it is sold out for most of the summer. The audience I saw looked surprisingly pedestrian, not what I pictured an edgy South Park crowd would look like. They could have all been at Anything Goes the night before.
This is because Parker, Stone, and Robert Lopez have created a show that fits snugly in the tradition of numerous other Broadway productions and was a nice night out at the theater. Nothing to be embarrassed or apologetic about as a debut production. A solid B+.
Now, if only I could remember a single song melody…