There is a reason that The Book of Mormon is the winner of nine Tony Awards.
And now, Louisville knows why.
The Book of Mormon, which opened Tuesday night at the Kentucky Center, is like most other Broadway-style musicals. It follows the formulaic story arc: characters break into songs (ballad and up-tempo) and sing their way through the trials and tribulations of life. And that is where the cookie-cutter context ends.
That's because then, The Book of Mormon proceeds to summon every racial and religious stereotype, every four letter word, and every obscene gesture imaginable and incorporate it into the story.
But they do it in such a sweet way.
Show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park fame) have found a way to make their completely irreverent satire not come across as vulgar. It’s not gratuitous. Somehow, this team of creative geniuses has managed to make the socially unacceptable acceptable.
And wildly so. The Book of Mormon has been playing to sold-out audiences since it first hit the stage in 2011.
They do it by not taking themselves, or anything, too seriously. And they don’t expect others to either. On both counts, they have succeeded. Even the target of the satire, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) have chosen to view this blockbuster not as an affront but as an opportunity to put their faith in front of a vast new audience. The church has several ads in the program, spouting cheeky jabs such as “The book is always better,” with QR codes that lead to websites with more church information.
In the production, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, having just completed their missionary training, receive orders to serve in Uganda, much to the chagrin of Elder Price. Once arrived, their initiation includes being robbed at gunpoint by General Butt F#!&ing Naked and finding out that no, Uganda is not at all like the Africa portrayed in The Lion King.
As the mismatched pair continues their proselytizing, Elder Cunningham finds a way into the hearts of the Ugandans and spreads his message. But his interpretation of the Mormon history is more than a little off-base and includes hobbits, the Starship Enterprise, and intimate relations with frogs. When the newly baptized Ugandans impart their new-found knowledge to the visiting Mission President in the form of a play, even Elder Cunningham himself senses there might be a bit of a problem.
The Louisville production, a stop on the First National Tour for The Book of Mormon, is completely engaging. While many audience members frequently found themselves watching with mouths gaping in disbelief, they were laughing at the same time, even at things that in any other situation would make an observer wildly uncomfortable. The oft-repeated phrase “I have maggots in my scrotum” comes to mind.
The music is unexpected, which is part of the charm of this production. One never knows what they will hear next but could recognize the whisper of a familiar riff from a variety of other musicals such as The Music Man or Annie. The choreography is as entertaining as the music itself and spans from campy cruise-ship numbers to those which seek to perseverate the stereotype of “African Dance.” The cast, led by Mark Evans and Christopher John O'Neill, is polished and delivers authentic lovability even as they make caricatures out of their real-life counterparts.
The musical is witty, fast-paced, and most definitely entertaining.
But for a production which makes no apologies for songs such as “F$#! You God” and “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” to get a standing ovation from a packed theater in Louisville, Kentucky, one must realize that The Book of Mormon is a whole lot more than just entertainment.
The Book of Mormon continues as part of the PNC Broadway in Louisville series through June 8. Tickets are still available, with midweek performances having the best seat selection. They may be purchased online and at the Kentucky Center box office, 502-584-7777. Tickets start at $43.
The production also holds a nightly ticket lottery for discounted $25 tickets. Patrons who would like to participate in the lottery must show up in-person at the Kentucky Center box office two and a half hours before the performance of their choice.
Image: The Book of Mormon National Tour Company/J.Marcus