MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW: THE BOOK OF MORMON
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
03 MAY 2013
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.