When entering Miller Auditorium, one might not anticipate the joint presence of Jesus and Darth Vader in a critically acclaimed Broadway musical. One may hope, upon reading “explicit language” warnings atop the tickets, that Grandma forgot her hearing aides. And rightly so, as the performance has its fair share of profanity, vulgarity, and sacrilege. Yet, the aforementioned elements are hardly needless, and should not exclude “hilarity, relevance and effective absurdity.”
The two-and-a-half hour show is laden with the unapologetically raunchy humor that can be expected from the creators of South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) and “Avenue Q” composer Robert Lopez. Such shock, although startling, proves a tremendous asset to a show within a medium often viewed as traditional.
The plot is fresh, following two Mormon missionaries as they eagerly embark on their assigned journey, hopeful and ready to make a change. Said journey, however, leads them to Uganda: hardly the Orlando-like region of sunshine, happiness and receptive potential converts they expect.
Resulting in a crushing blow of reality for both the desperately friendless (and comedic relief in a play composed of comic relief) Elder Cunningham, the charismatic golden boy Elder Price, they and the audience are exposed to the not-so-hopeful life of a people plagued by AIDs and a warlord determined to kill or mutilate them all. The resident Mormon missionaries have failed to baptize any natives (who have witnessed countless Christian spiels and curse the god that is of no use to them) and must knock in the absence of doorbells.
Preposterous (and humorous) events ensue, involving extensive distortion of a religion already portrayed as slightly ridiculous. However, the parody scarcely reads as mean-spirited, rather embracing religion’s role in dealing with the incongruities of this world (albeit with further incongruity). Faith allows all parties to learn from each other, binding them to a community capable of confronting adversity, comforted by the promise of paradise-Salt Lake City. If a biblical alteration containing tales of dysentery and sexual relations with frogs (or any form of faith, however illogical) helps people remain hopeful in the face of struggle, The Book of Mormon, in a roundabout way, supports it.
In this way, the musical packs plenty of heart in addition to punch. The characters are developed and flawed as the world they occupy, yet endearing all the same. The Book of Mormon tweaks the classic Broadway format to fit the present day without sacrificing showy numbers or brilliant choreography, but goes the extra mile in its utilization of wit and explosive humor. A theme rooted in humanity itself is presented in a surprisingly original way, and the clever lyrics coupled with jazzy tunes are sure to root themselves similarly within one’s head.