Ding-dong! 'Book of Mormon' is gut-bustingly hilarious
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 14:09
The transition from a crudely animated Comedy Central series to a big-budget, critically acclaimed Broadway musical may sound like a strange one, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been building up to this for years.
The two creators of “South Park” have taken their musical, “The Book of Mormon,” on the road, and last night the musical made its way to the Pantages theater in Los Angeles.
Parker and Stone have had a fascination with musicals and the Mormon religion for years. Fans of “South Park” may remember the episode “All About Mormons,” in which Stan met a family of friendly Mormons and was told a similarly musical tale about the religion and its bizarre quirks.
Much like that episode, “The Book of Mormon” is a brilliant religious satire, but it avoids being too mean-spirited. In fact, the overly cheerful, yet naïve missionaries in the show come off as endearing, and their cheerful outlook in the face of danger and despair gives the show an irreverent humor. Although the musical has its share of delightfully cringe-worthy moments, it still knows exactly where its heart lies and manages to be strangely uplifting.
The show focuses on two vastly different teenage Mormon missionaries, the confident yet selfish Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and the portly pathologically-lying nerd, Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner.)
Elder Price is dead set on doing something really amazing to “blow God’s freaking mind” during his mission. He is also convinced that because he has been such a well behaved Mormon, God will answer his prayers and send him to his favorite place on the planet, Orlando, Florida.
Elder Cunningham is the outcast of his class of Mormons due to his annoying qualities and his tendency to simply lie in attempts to fit in with the crowd. His only goal for his mission is to make a friend, so he latches on to Elder Price almost immediately.
Unlike other missionaries who are sent to exotic European vacation spots for their missions, Price and Cunningham spend their mission in a place that really needs help: Uganda. Here, they find a town full of starving people, oppressed and riddled with AIDS much to their dismay. The townspeople deal with their pain and suffering by shouting “Hasa Dega Eebowai,” a hilarious play on “Hakuna Matata,” which means something much more blasphemous than “no worries for the rest of your days.”
The differences between the reality of Africa and the Disney version in “The Lion King” are points of humor frequently used throughout the play. The fact that “The Lion King” has also been turned into a popular musical is no coincidence.
The music of the show is absolutely hilarious and insanely catchy. It’s hard not to dance in your seat during tunes like “Man Up” and “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” One of the highlights of the show is “Turn It Off,” during which other Mormon missionaries teach Price and Cunningham to turn all their bad and “un-Mormon” thoughts and feelings off “like a light switch.”
The two actors in the lead roles are as brilliant and engaging as the original actors from Broadway. Jared Gertner is hysterical as Elder Cunningham, and he perfectly walks the line between charming and obnoxious as he tries to fit in. Gavin Creel is deliciously self-centered as he plays Elder Price, and humor can be found even in his squirming as everything around him falls apart. His performance of the show-stopping song “I Believe” is funny, heartfelt and ridiculous in all the right ways.
However, one of the standout performances is Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware), the town leader’s young daughter who still holds onto her innocence despite all the horrors around her. She becomes the most susceptible to the Mormon’s teachings and dreams of the magical land of “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” — or Salt Lake City — and much like Elder Price, she also dreams of Orlando.
The rest of the missionaries in the Ugandan camp have had almost no success in converting the locals, who spend most of their time hiding from the ruthless General Buttf--cking Naked, an evil warlord wishing to circumcise all the females in the town. It isn’t until Elder Cunningham starts fabricating lies about the Book of Mormon — which he hasn’t read — that the locals start to finally listen.
This is where the brilliance of the show really comes through. Despite the humorous tone, it asks the serious question of whether or not religion can be helpful, regardless of its truth. The play starts off by making the audience laugh at the inherent silliness of a group of Mormons sticking to their religion’s rules, even in the face of famine and disease, but it then makes clear its stance on religion: that all religion is full of ridiculous stories intended to help people deal with the problems around them.
Parker and Stone have used Mormons to show that all religion is just as ridiculous when viewed from an outside perspective. Yet in the end, some people need those metaphors and mythical stories to help them cope with the pain of being human, and who are we to judge them if it actually works?
“The Book of Mormon” will continue playig at the Pantages theater in Hollywood until Nov. 25.