Written by “South Park” co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and “Avenue Q” songwriter Robert Lopez, The Book of Mormon pokes fun at everything Mormon, from doorbell ringers to wrinkled deacons. Even practicing Mormons were singing along when the exceptional touring production came to the Civic Theatre last week, for the fourth time in five years.
The musical has unforgettable songs and eye-popping dancing, and the current cast gives the show new burning energy. On the list of funniest musicals, it ranks on top with Young Frankenstein and Spamalot. As for profanity, there is no equal.
If you’ve never watched the TV show “South Park,” you must know there are no boundaries in the musical comedy The Book of Mormon. Clean cut Mormon guys in crisp short sleeved shirts are ridiculed as glee-club wimps and closet gays. Africans are portrayed as sickly fools and violent thugs. Lyrics are vulgar, snarky, and sprinkled with the word clitoris more than anyone wants to hear.
It starts by skewering the Mormon creation story under a sunlit structure that resembles the storybook temple off the I-5 in La Jolla. God, Joseph Smith, and golden Angel Moroni are there. A very white and blonde Jesus Christ speaks in the voice of cartoon character Eric Cartman from “South Park.” Way to go Trey.
Two newbie Mormons aren’t prepared for the worst of all missionary posts that awaits them. (Photo array here).
Actor Liam Tobin is super zealous as Elder Price, the fresh-faced alpha Mormon. He believes that God lives on the planet Kolob and prays for two dreamy years in Orlando. Jordan Matthew Brown plays tubby loser sidekick Elder Cunningham. He wants a friend and hopes to impress his dad, but he can’t seem to tell the truth.
Faith and truth are tested when the odd couple is sent to poverty-stricken Uganda to convert dark-skinned natives who steal their luggage and curse God and all of his orifices when they sing “Hasa Diga Eebowai!” Singing “F— You God” is their way of surviving child rape, mutilation, AIDS, and violent warlords who shoot innocent people in the face.
Making a crowd laugh through it all is quite brilliant. The trick is to borrow ideas and characters from other musicals and movies (Annie, Wicked, Spamalot, Star Wars, Star Trek), and a few mass murderers and cannibals (Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer).
Because Elder Cunningham is the biggest fibber, he’s also the best at recruiting on the mission. His first convert is a Ugandan teenager. Alyah Chanelle is a passionate performer and a heavenly singer as Nabulungi, in the song “Baptize Me,” with double-entendres.
Cunningham can’t get her name right. He calls out, “Oh Neutrogena…” and other variations, which speaks to the idea of clueless outsiders meddling in Africa since forever.
Under the giggles, the show reveals horrors real and imagined and doubts about faith.
Tobin’s portrayal of Elder Price and his visit to Mormon Hells is especially vivid with multi-tiered sets and giant horned devil, assorted evil pals, and giant coffee cups.
Wholesome Mormon lads draw screams in gleeful chorus lines and tapping time steps set to “Turn it Off.” Choreography by Casey Nicholaw (a San Diegan) is smart and he is also a co-director.
The Mormon Church no longer takes out ads in the program. I did not see anyone handing out copies of the Book of Mormon this time. Still, several people seated near me clearly grew up Mormon, and they seemed to know the entire show by heart. The show won a Grammy a few years back.
“I believe” some may find The Book of Mormon too irreverent. But remember the heartwarming characters and message. Yes, the F-bombs are excessive, still, it remains one of the funniest musicals and the ending is romantically hopeful.