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Paulanne Simmons


The Book Of Mormon Raises Holy Hell

"The Book of Mormon"
Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker.
Eugene O'Neill Theatre
230 West 49th Street
Opened March 24, 2011
Tues. thru Thurs. 7pm, Fri. 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun. 2pm & 7pm
Tickets: $59-$137 (212) 239-6200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 30, 2011

Many people may make highly intellectual comments on the social and political messages in "The Book of Mormon." They will recommend the musical for its satire on religious fundamentalism and western condescension toward Africa. But the best reason for seeing "The Book of Mormon" is simply because it's such great fun.

Of the musical's three writers of book, music, and lyrics, Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, the first two are the creators of "South Park." Lopez is the composer and co-creator of "Avenue Q." Add the facts that Casey Nicholaw of "Monty Python's Spamalot" choreographs and directs with Parker, and it's pretty easy to figure out the direction "The Book of Mormon" takes. But you have to see it to fully appreciate the musical's blasphemy, irreverence and crude bawdiness.

Pictured (L to R): Nikki M. Jarnes, Andrew Rannells, Josh Gad and ensemble. Photo by Joan Marcus.

"The Book of Mormon" is not for the straight-laced, as a brief look at the plot reveals: Two Mormon Missionaries Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) and Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad), the first a self-centered idealist, the second a chubby misfit, are sent to Uganda to convert the native population. In Uganda they settle in a village ravaged by AIDS and threatened by a local warlord with an unprintable name. The villagers cheer themselves up by singing a song with lyrics that are also unprintable.

After Elder Price gives up on the villagers, Elder Cunningham is left to his own devices. He manages to convert the natives by making the Book of Mormon more relevant to their own lives, thanks to his unique interpretations. His first convert is the chief's daughter, Nabulungi (Nikki M. James), who is under the impression that Cunningham intends on taking the whole village to Salt Lake City. Her solo song about going to that city is side-splitting and a little sad too.

Pictured (L to R): Michael James Scott, Asmeret Ghebrernichael, Rerna Webb, Lawrence Stallings, Maia Nkenge Wilson (sitting), Darlesia Cearcy, and Josh Gad. Photo by Joan Marcus. Andrew Rannells. Photo by Joan Marcus. Pictured (L to R): Rerna Webb, Andrew Rannells, Josh Gad. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Matters come to a head in a truly hilarious scene when some of the top Mormon officials come to visit the converts. The natives treat them to a play that retells Cunningham's version of Joseph Smith and the founding of Mormonism. Much of this is again unprintable.

The upbeat, rhythmic and rollicking score with its deliciously obscene lyrics should have many people rolling in the aisles. It's hard not to hum the catchy tunes and whisper the irreverent words while leaving the theater. The dances are a clever mix of glitzy Broadway and pseudo-African movement. The cast is clearly having as good a time as the audience.

But the best thing about "The Book of Mormon" is that it never takes itself seriously. Even though, in the end, Elder Price learns humility and Elder Cunningham learns self-confidence, even though the villagers learn that it's not a good idea to have sex with babies to cure AIDS and it takes courage to stand up to tyrants with rifles, this is accomplished with an admirable lack of self-righteousness.

So leave your Bibles and your guilt at home. Fortify your sense of humor and love of the outrageous. And come on down to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre for the funniest, most outlandish evening you've probably spent on Broadway in a long, long time.

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