Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Pictured: Scott Wentworth

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to LFPress
29 MAY 2013
R: 4/5

STRATFORD - It’s not up there with St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, but in the wake of a major effort to restore the Festival Theatre stage to the vision of designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch, director Donna Feore has finally accepted the challenges of Stratford’s unique thrust stage. In fact, in her production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, which opened on that stage Tuesday, there are only a few scenes where she pretends that thrust is a conventional proscenium, ultimately serving up a FIDDLER to all — those in the cheap seats as well as those paying top dollar.

And there is much to recommend Feore’s staging, not the least, her recreation of Jerome Robbins’ thrilling choreography, swirling across Allen Moyer’s Chagall-inspired set like so much human quicksilver. Then, of course, there’s the enduring music, composed by Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick to enliven Joseph Stein’s stage adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s enduring stories of life in the Czarist Russian Jewish community of Anatevka — songs like Tradition, To Life and the deeply touching Sunrise, Sunset and Do You Love Me?, each deeply etched in the bedrock of American musical theatre.

At the heart of the play sits the immortal Tevye (Scott Wentworth), scratching a meagre living for his long-suffering wife Goldie (Kate Hennig) and his five unmarried daughters from his efforts as a dairyman, happily ruled by the religious traditions of centuries. But as his daughters grow and begin to spread their wings — the eldest Tzeitel (Jennifer Stewart) wedding a poor tailor (André Morin), the second Hodel (Jacquelyn French) choosing a revolutionary scholar (Mike Nadajewski, out of control on a comedic pogo schtick) and the third, Chava, (sweet-voiced Keely Hutton), a Russian soldier (Paul Nolan) — Tevye discovers that the most abiding tradition of all is the universal tradition of parents setting a beloved child on the road to happiness. Then, as his daughters change his view of the traditions that shaped his life, Tevye discovers changes shaking the outside world are about to end the world as he knows it.

Feore and her cast make the most of the music and dancing woven throughout FIDDLER, building a strong sense of musical community, but when it comes to fleshing out that community, Feore proves less adroit. Where Tevye spends his days talking to God, Wentworth instead spends much of his time talking to his audience, like a time-travelling Jackie Mason set loose in the Borscht Belt of the Urals.

And while Hennig, Nadajewski and Gabrielle Jones (as Yente, the matchmaker) join Wentworth in the Russian Catskills, actors like Steve Ross, Jeremy Kushnier, Brad Rudy and others dig deeper, mining the human tragedy which spawned the style of humour with which the others cloak themselves. So, in the end, Feore gives us a FIDDLER shy of perfection, but eminently enjoyable — not a FIDDLER for the ages, perhaps, but for today, it’s a FIDDLER you can enjoy.

Pictured: Daniel Briere, Sara Topham

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to LFPress
29 May 2013
R: 3.5/5

STRATFORD — The latest season of the Stratford Festival launched here Monday with a big, bold production of ROMEO AND JULIET, staged with admirable authenticity by director Tim Carroll, an enthusiastic devoteé of London's Globe Theatre, where the Original Practices of Shakespeare and his players are held in high regard.

And, in attempting to present R&J to a 21st century audience seated in the Festival Theatre while maintaining the illusion that his is an audience gathered in the outdoor confines of Shakespeare's Globe on a sunny Sunday afternoon, late in the 16th century, Carroll offers some interesting perspectives, at least to an audience steeped in modern theatrical convention.

Carroll's interest in history comes together most happily on a stage only recently returned to the proportions originally envisioned by the legendary Tanya Moiseiwitsch in her original Stratford design, creating what certainly looks to be an 'authentic' production of Shakespeare's most enduring romantic tragedy. Ultimately, however, it all smacks more of archeology that theatricality in a production seemingly more concerned with what is in the history books than what is in the characters' hearts.

For openers, there's the problem of the leading characters, for while Carroll certainly has a Romeo (Daniel Briere) and Juliet (Sara Topham) with which to conjure, at least on a physical level, he never really brings their romance to life, leaving one to speculate on the reproductive elements of cold fusion. Topham, at least, enjoys some lovely, if overly shrill, moments of girlish innocence, but Briere is strangely and determinedly detached throughout, finally exhibiting less angst at the loss of his ladylove than most young men display at the elimination of their team from the playoffs.

They are, at least, surrounded by a seasoned cast, most of whom are doing interesting work — and while one appreciates the effort and skill the always admirable Kate Hennig, for instance, puts into her bawdy portrayal of Juliet's nurse, or the comedic chops Mike Nadajewski marshals in transforming the role of an illiterate servant into a featured role, or even the unaccustomed swagger Tom McCamus brings to the role of the venerable Friar Laurence, one is far less likely to find those efforts do much to move the heart of the story forward.

But amongst a supporting cast that includes Scott Wentworth, Wayne Best and a host of others, Jonathan Goad's take on the mercurial Mercutio is perhaps most bewildering — a poetic, lively character whose death starts the inevitable decline of this love story into tragedy, stripped here of his poetry and reduced to signalling that the plug has been pulled and any emotional and human energy heretofore generated is about to drain away at an alarming rate.

Working in a medium that normally aspires to touch the heart, Carroll instead takes aim squarely at the head, serving up a production that proves to be an utterly serviceable and yes, even authentic, production of ROMEO AND JULIET. But on another, deeper level, it emerges as little more than forgettable and oddly loveless piece of work, perhaps more appropriately titled Much Ado About Nothing.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Pictured: Kimberly Persona

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
17 MAY 2013
R: 3.5/5

TORONTO - From Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens to Johnny Cash and Diana Ross — sometimes it seems everyone who has made it to the top of the pop charts has inspired a stage play or a movie musical that, while purporting to examine life and career, manages to capitalize on whatever hits they’ve added to the great American songbook. OF A MONSTROUS CHILD: A GAGA MUSICAL is not one of those shows.

Instead, the musical, which opened Thursday on the stage of Buddies in Bad Times (a production of Ecce Homo is association with Buddies) attempts not only to explain Lady Gaga, but to put her in historical context as well. Writer/director Alistair Newton, in fact, is downright sparing in his use of the Gaga songbook, choosing instead to inform his lecture in social history with a liberal sprinkling of musical and cultural references and a bit of nudity instead.

In fact, Lady Gaga (as played by Kimberly Persona) is not even really the star of his show, although she is definitely along for the ride. Instead, Newton turns over hosting duties to an unlikely duet, charged as guides, not so much through Gaga’s life as her reason for being.

To provide historical cultural perspective, Newton asks Bruce Dow to re-invigorate Leigh Bowery, the Australian-born performance artist and cultural arbiter who died from AIDS in 1994. Meanwhile, the wonderfully androgynous Tyson James gives voice to Gaga’s devoted fan base as The Little Monster, offering a pop culture perspective on the fame that has elevated Stefani Germanotta from mere mortal pop culture contemporary of Madonna and, well, the Madonna.

Having set our feet down on Gaga’s often shocking Yellow Brick Road, The Little Monster discovers Leigh to be the man behind the curtain (where, apparently, he wasn’t dead, but merely resting) and the two embark on an exploration of Gaga’s place in modern gay pop culture. Their exploration follows paths both sacred and profane and offers the opportunity to revisit many of the icons that in their way, prepared the ground so Gaga could take root and blossom. Chy Ryan Spain and Kyle Travis Young team up with the irrepressible Gavin Crawford to enliven everyone from Grace Jones to Bjork to Quentin Crisp to Yoko Ono.

Newton may use all the elements of conventional musical theatre, making the most of Dan Rutzen’s musical direction and the choreography of Sky Fairchild-Waller, but his GAGA MUSICAL is anything but. While his approach too often lacks focus, and while Matt Jackson’s lofty set and costume designs too often fall prey to budgetary limitations, OF A MONSTROUS CHILD still manages to emerge as a thought-provoking visual essay on the evolution — or devolution, depending on your perspective — not so much of an artist, but of art itself.

So, while those who are truly gaga over Gaga might want a few more of her songs included in the 90-minute run, they aren’t likely to miss this opportunity to worship at her altar — and happily, they’ll pick up a bit of historical perspective along the way.

Pictured: Dan Chameroy, Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
16 MAY 2013
R: 2/5

TORONTO - If, for some bizarre reason, you’ve ever found yourself wishing someone would take one of those particularly bad skits from Saturday Night Live and stretch it out so that it lasted nearly three hours, take heart. Your wish just might have come true. To find out, however, you’re going to have to sit through the Soulpepper production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, which opened Wednesday at the Young Centre.

First, fair warning. If it’s the groundbreaking classic comedy authored by Beaumarchais that springs to mind at the mention of that title, or even the evergreen opera Rossini made from it, listen up: This is not -- I repeat NOT -- THAT Barber of Seville. Instead, it is a revisiting of Theatre Columbus’ award-winning and utterly self-indulgent mash-up of the dramatic equivalent of everything but the kitchen sink -- sources here seem to include the play, the opera, several animated cartoons and any number of potty-mouthed playground wits and roués, all chewed up and spat out by director Leah Cherniak and playwright Michael O’Brien, in concert with composer John Millard.

The story, happily, is still somewhat recognizable -- the over-libidoed Count Almaviva (Gregory Prest) joins forces with the ever-inventive barber of title, Figaro, (played by Dan Chameroy) to rescue the lovely and virginal Rosina (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster) from the clutches of her guardian, the aged and amorous Don Bartola (Oliver Dennis), thereby transforming her into the Countess Almaviva.

But while the tale may be somewhat familiar, Ken MacKenzie’s adaptable set, which looks like it has been stolen, holus-bolus, from a downmarket suburban eatery, is peopled with so many perambulating Spanish clichés -- silly Basquers and outright Andalunatics, all certifiably flamenloco -- that after about a quarter-hour of their over-the-top antics, one shouldn’t be surprised to find oneself declaring: “Franco, my dear, we don’t give a damn.”

Musically, it features an on-stage band, beefed up, in the most ad hoc of fashions, by members of the cast. Sources, meanwhile. include everything from Rossini to Ricky Martin, even a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise for good measure, presumably lest anyone forget, in the midst of all this nonsense, the role this Barber played in stirring up revolutionary zeal in France following its première.

While this may be a hugely talented cast, it’s hugely wasted in a staging that seems far more interested in keeping its cast amused than its audience. In fact, one of the comedic highlights of the opening night performance seemed to be watching journeyman Dennis inexplicably lose control over a butch-drag routine Prest has apparently stolen from a bunch of drunken Shriners.

Ultimately, only Chameroy -- a consummate cut-up -- emerges from this debacle without a complete egg facial, which is hardly surprising, considering his experience with Ross Petty’s annual Christmas panto. Come to think of it, if this production had Petty, a whole lot more heart and a gross of soap bars for the washing out of mouths, it might someday aspire to panto-dom. When it finally grows up, of course.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Pictured: Shawn Wright, Jenny L. Wright

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
15 MAY 2013
R: 4.5/5

While fans of musical theatre might favour a nice Douglas Fir or a Scotch Pine when Christmas rolls around, chances are their evergreen of choice for the rest of the year is something like GUYS AND DOLLS.

More than 60 years after it was carved from the fanciful New York tales of Damon Runyan by collaborators Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, who provided a wonderful, witty book, and Frank Loesser, who dreamed up gold-plated music and lyrics that turned his tunes into abiding hits, a good production of G&D still out-sparkles almost anything in the American musical theatre canon. And happily, the Shaw Festival's latest production, which opened in the Festival Theatre, under the solid direction of Tadeusz Bradecki, proves to be almost solid gold, served-up largely unadorned by modern theatrical technology as a showcase for some fine singing, smooth dancing and rock-solid acting.

Chances are, you're already familiar with the storyline — but just in case, here goes: Set in the underbelly of mid-20th century Manhattan, G&D is a double barrelled romance: The first, a long-running engagement between burlesque queen Miss Adelaide (a show-stopping Jenny L. Wright) and small-time hood, Nathan Detroit (an utterly note perfect Shawn Wright); The second, an unlikely union between the inscrutable Sky Masterson (fresh-faced Kyle Blair, fighting above his weight and landing more than a few impressive punches) and Sarah Brown (sweet-voiced Elodi Gillett), a soldier in the Salvation Army.

When a half-hearted police crackdown throws Nathan off his floating craps game, it also unleashes a series of delightful and hugely complicated plot twists that lead us through Cuba and other travails before arriving at an inevitable matrimonial conclusion as the action flows seamlessly across Peter Hartwell's simply wonderful set. Along the way, there are, of course, all those glorious songs, given new life under the strong musical direction of Paul Sportelli.

There are, mind you, a few minor weaknesses in Bradecki's otherwise masterful take on the tale, not the least of which is the fact that, while Miss Adelaide and Nathan clearly enjoy all the Wright stuff, Sky's and Sarah's romance seems fired as much by strong technique as by chemistry, but thanks to their skills, this upsets the perfect balance of the piece only minimally. And happily, with the run already extended, there's plenty of time for that chemistry to grow.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Pictured: Claire Jullien, Charlie Gallant

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
13 MAY 2013
R: 2.5/5

What we have here is a failure to communicate. While it seems that in programming and then staging W. Somerset Maugham's OUR BETTERS for the Shaw Festival, both artistic director Jackie Maxwell and director Morris Panych hoped to capitalize on the popularity of current TV trends to attract an audience.

But while Maxwell was hoping the success of Downton Abbey would set fire to the box-office for the show that opened Saturday in the Royal George, Panych was looking to the The Real Housewives of Orange County (with just a touch of Jersey Shore thrown in) for his inspiration. Not surprisingly, the final product doesn't really do justice to either vision, although in fairness, Panych's tawdry take on things carries the day in what can only be described as a pyrrhic victory.

In terms of Downton Abbey, it shares an era with OUR BETTERS, although Panych and designers Ken MacDonald (creator of the over-embroidered sets) and Charlotte Dean (creator of its memorable costuming confections) have moved the action from the pre-World War I where Maugham originally set it to the post-war era instead.

And like Downton Abbey, it's all a bit of a soap opera, concerned with the goings-on amongst a group of young women who have forsaken life in America in favour of a safari to deepest darkest London, determined to bag a titled husband, armed only with youthful good looks and their fathers' fortunes. They are led by the Lady Pearl Grayson (Claire Jullien, playing a tune that is all brass with no strings), who has parlayed her father's money and her husband's title into a leading role in London society — with a little help from her friends.

That accomplished, she's now concentrating her considerable energy on landing a similar aristocratic husband for her younger sister Bessie (a sweet Julia Course), who has already thrown over her still-loving American fiancé (an otherwise acceptable Wade Bogert-O'Brien, still incapable if concealing the off/on switch on his acting instrument) in preparation.

But though Bessie has been seduced by the elegance of London society and is well on her way to her matrimonial goal, cracks begin to appear in the world that enchants her — or at least they should. But they are already obvious in Pearl's coterie of American ex-pats, comprised of Neil Barclay, Laurie Paton, a touching Catherine McGregor and an utterly miscast Lorne Kennedy, with Ben Sanders and Charlie Gallant on board to represent in their way, both ends of the food chain on which these colonials hope to feed.

OUR BETTERS enjoyed some success in its première, largely, one suspects, because an audience developed some affection for its characters before their fault lines were revealed, which would account for Maxwell's references to Downton Abbey. But under Panych's direction, the tawdriness Maugham wove so subtly into his tale in the expectation of a slow reveal, is highlighted instead from the very top in the assumption that a modern audience seasoned by reality TV would rather spend three hours revelling in the story's venality than its humanity. Imagine Downton Abbey — as envisioned by Mark Burnett and starring the Kardashians.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Pictured: Nicole Underhay, Graeme Somerville

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
12 MAY 2013
R: 3.5/5

TORONTO - NIAGARA-ON-THE LAKE — In a world obsessed with religion and guns — and how to control the excesses of both — there is something refreshing in a work like Bernard Shaw’s MAJOR BARBARA, if for no other reason than it reminds us that while times change, issues too often remain the same. Premiered in 1905, the play — considered to be one of the celebrated Irish polemicist’s major works — tackles both religion and the arms’ industry in such a way that society comes out looking pretty shabby. And as the new Royal George production that launched the 2013 Season here at the Shaw Festival Friday proves, it can still, on occasion, pack a pretty solid punch on both fronts.

The protagonists are certainly memorable. In one corner, representing religion is the Major Barbara of title, played here by Nicole Underhay, a beautiful and zealous officer in the Salvation Army, determined to bring comfort to a troubled and poverty-riven world. Meanwhile, in the other, representing a world where might is right, her long estranged and fabulously wealthy father, Andrew Undershaft, played by Benedict Campbell, determined to win his newly discovered and good-hearted daughter to his point of view.

Their world views collide in a dense, talky sort of play — hardly surprising, considering the dense, talky canon of its playwright — but it is given considerable energy in a production helmed by Jackie Maxwell, tucked seamlessly (if a trifle fussily) into the George’s more intimate confines by designer Judith Bowden. With solid turns from her two principals — Campbell unleashing his impressive vocal power and Underhay falling back on a gamin quality to enliven one of Shaw’s most enduring heroines — Maxwell scores only a mixed success with the rest of her casting.

On the plus side, Graeme Somerville is cast as Barbara’s happily adaptable fiance, Adolphus, and mines it for pure dramatic gold, turning in one of the evening’s finest performances, while veterans like Laurie Paton (as Barbara’s aristocratic mother) and Catherine McGregor and Peter Krantz (as the troubled Rummy Mitchens and Peter Shirley respectively) also impress, even if one might occasionally quibble with some of their choices.

But sadly, under Maxwell’s direction, too many of the younger actors — Ben Sanders, Wade Bogert-O’Brien, Billy Lake and James Pendarves to name a few — turn in overly-fussy audition pieces, blissfully unaware that, as beasts of burden for Shaw’s point of view, too much acting gets in the way.

In addition, and without apology, Maxwell chooses to weight the piece in favour of Undershaft and his world view, and while her revisionism should not be dismissed lightly, it ultimately smacks too much of a director approaching Othello with a determination to throw the fight to Iago. Ultimately this Undershaft is too charming, Major Barbara too softly compliant. So, in the end, while this production has an undeniable charm, Maxwell’s fresh take on Major Barbara stops somewhat shy of being a major success.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Pictured: Amitai Marmorstein, Elizabeth Saunders

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
11 MAY 2013
R: 2/5

TORONTO - Too often, the main problem with promise is that it doesn’t add up to that oft-cited hill o’ beans until it’s been kept. And while playwright Amy Lee Lavoie has earned her niche as one of Canada’s most promising young playwrights with Summerworks’ offerings like Rabbit Rabbit and Me Happy, that promise isn’t kept in the mainstage world première of STOPHEART, her latest work. Penned during her tenure as Factory Theatre’s playwright in residence, STOPHEART opened there Thursday, the latest offering in the troubled theatre’s current stop-gap season.

Set in the town of South Porcupine, Ont., it’s a quirky little play that, despite its promise, keeps tripping over both its diminutive size and its offbeat nature like an over-eager puppy as it struggles to fill the broad expanses of the Factory’s large stage. In the beginning, one suspects, STOPHEART was intended to tell the story of the relationship between two young misfits — the morose and sexually confused Elian, played by Amitai Marmorstein, and the troubled July, played by Vivien Endicott. But through an imbalance in the writing and an utter lack of directorial vision, July is quickly reduced to a supporting player and it becomes Elian’s sad, sad story.

So, we are left with his struggle to understand his quirky, death-obsessed parents, played by Elizabeth Saunders and Martin Julien, all the while dealing with a sudden romantic obsession with July’s long-lost brother Bear, played by Garret C. Smith — an obsession he sees as some sort of same-sex version of Romeo and Juliet, with the forests of South Porcupine subbing in for the cobbled streets of old Verona.

In the world of quirky, of course, such detours are commonplace — but when the playwright suddenly veers into darker territory, inadvertently romanticizing death as a cure for teenaged angst in the process, things go badly off the rails. And where, in a perfect world, a strong director might have conspired with an novice playwright to prevent the train-wreck that ensues, Ron Jenkins is all but missing in action, despite the director’s credit he receives, failing to provide an emotional anchor for the story and ignoring even rudimentary rules of staging. In the early, establishing scenes, in which the details of the relationship between Elian and his parents and perhaps even more important, the relationship between Elian and July, are supposed to be delineated, the actors are allowed to swallow so much of Lavoie’s dialogue, instead of projecting it, that an audience is likely to be left feeling they have no choice but to make it up as they go along.

Which is a pity, for quirky dialogue — imagine Diablo Cody talking around issues instead of getting to the point of them the way she did in the much-lauded Juno — appears to be Lavoie’s strength here, and one suspects that with a much stronger hand on the directorial tiller, STOPHEART could have had a chance. As it stands, Lavoie still shows a lot of promise — but more importantly perhaps, she has to learn how to keep them all.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Pictured: Judith Forst

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
09 MAY 2013
R: 5/5

TORONTO - It has been said — quite correctly, too — that, while a journeyman carver can impose his will on a piece of marble, only a true artist can coax from that marble the art that already dwells inside it . Which suggests if Toronto-born artist Robert Carsen had chosen marble instead of music and flesh as his medium, he might have given Michelangelo a run.

For proof, consider Carsen’s superb production of Francis Poulenc’s DIALOGUES DES CARMÉLITES, currently playing at the Four Seasons Centre — a production initially created for Nederlandse Opera that fits the Canadian Opera Company stage to perfection while showcasing some of Canada’s finest operatic talent in the process.

Even in opera, DIALOGUES is emotional heavy lifting, recounting the story of a group of nuns caught up in the French revolution who choose to go, one by one, to the guillotine rather than subvert their faith to the will of the mob. But in melding a high-powered cast that teams the venerable and vital mezzo Judith Forst with talents like sopranos Isabel Bayrakdarian, Adrianne Pieczonka, Hélène Guilmette and Megan Latham and sets them down in the midst of the elegantly spare design vision of Michael Levine (sets), Falk Bauer (costumes) and Jean Kalman (whose lighting design is recreated by Cor Van Den Brink), Carsen creates operatic magic. This is a work of such simple, soaring beauty that one suspects Poulenc has rarely been better served.

And while it remains a musically challenging piece, for the most part, that challenge is more than met by the COC Orchestra under conductor Johannes Debus, although at times, that orchestra and the cast seemed — uncharacteristically — to be working in competition instead of collaboration.

In terms of staging, Carsen and Levine use a simple box, and with the help of a cast of thousands (OK, a cast of dozens, but dozens used to maximum effect) turn it into something worthy of Pandora, a box from which the evil of excess springs as looming revolution sweeps inexorably back and forth across the stage, until eventually, it invades the peaceful and reflective life of the convent in which the Carmélites serve in prayer and meditation. From its very opening scene, this is a production filled not only with the claustrophobia of imminent disaster, but with the kind of quiet peace that disaster can so easily overwhelm.

Finally, in an ending that, in terms of sheer horror, teeters on the edge of excess, Carsen teams simple sound with the choreography of Philippe Giraudeau — which proves far more effective than the most gory of special effects. Because, in the end, the genius of a great director is measured not in what is brought to an opera in the way of clever concepts and over-worked staging, but rather by what is brought out in an opera, by simply getting inside the story and the music and working with it. And here, Carsen establishes his greatness.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
03 MAY 2013
R: 3.5/5

TORONTO - If you’re looking for reverence, visit a church. If it’s good taste you seek, try a five-star restaurant. And for sparkling wit, the works of Noel Coward or one of his ilk are available on DVD at a video outlet near you. But if you’re in the mood for something irreverent, something that successfully skirts good taste at every turn, eschewing rapier wit in favour of a comedic broadsword, then just try to get a ticket or two to THE BOOK OF MORMON. And good luck with that.

The celebrated multi Tony Award-winning stage musical from the creators of television’s iconic South Park series opened a limited run at the Princess of Wales Thursday; and it is already pretty much sold out. And while the musical is likely to leave more than a few members of the blue-rinse set slack-jawed in horror on any number of levels, one suspects it’s precisely what followers of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the South Park creators who teamed with Robert Lopez to write THE BOOK OF MORMON) might demand.

In spinning out a tale of two Mormon missionaries assigned to darkest Uganda, they begin at the very boundaries of good taste and proceed to explore a dark, comedic continent far beyond. The two missionaries in question are the fresh-faced zealot, Elder Price (played by Mark Evans, constantly tripped up by the line that separates musical performers from musical comedy performers) and his slacker partner, Elder Cunningham (a fine comedic turn by Christopher John O’Neill).

Filled with good intentions and misguided zealotry, these two find themselves in a Ugandan village plagued by poverty, AIDS and a malicious warlord — all of which supplies the comedic fodder that, in combination with the writers’ trademark potty-mouthed dialogue, fires the plot. While THE BOOK OF MORMON’s book is not great literature, it serves to bridge gaps between musical numbers, each comprised of little more than the most rudimentary rhymes and a lot of enthusiasm, marshalled to maximum effect by choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who shares a directing credit with Parker.

But if the humour plays to the lowest common denominator — if a scintillating line like “I have maggots in my scrotum” doesn’t crack you up, you might want to take a pass here — what redeems THE BOOK OF MORMON is a satiric sensibility that, while short of subtle, successfully and subversively sends up the naiveté of the American religious right nonetheless without conventional viciousness. While an opening night audience wasn’t exactly rolling in the aisles, one sensed that this show found redemption in the eyes of many not so much because of its humour but rather in its simplistic endorsement of the notion that the end can justify all the meanness. As comedy goes, THE BOOK OF MORMON may not be divinely inspired, but, in the cult of South Park, it successfully preaches to the choir nonetheless.