In this article…
The Book of Mormon is the only musical I've seen that has a Parental Advisory—and it's there for a reason.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are known for breaking rules, crossing lines, and poop humor. For them, nothing is untouchable. Not one thing. It shouldn't be a surprise that their Tony Award-winning musical follows the same guidelines, and yet the sallow combination of regret, shame and mortification on some parents' faces shows that they believed The Book of Mormon would be a good choice for their 10-year-olds. It wasn't.
The Best Musical of 2011 is laugh-out-loud hilarious—your face and stomach will ache by the end of the first act—but simultaneously dark and disturbing. The story begins with squeaky-clean 19-year-old Mormons going on their mission to bring others to their faith because “eternal life is super fun.”
Two by two / We're marching door to door / 'Cause God loves Mormons / And he wants some more / A two-year mission is our sacrifice—We are the army of the Church of Jesus Christ! / ...Of Latter Day Saints
Two missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, are sent to Uganda. Here is where you first recognize a change from the cheery squeaky tone when the villagers sing “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” The singing is gorgeous and you may have Lion King flashbacks, but the song is a far cry from “Hakuna Matata.”
When the world is getting you down / There's nobody else to blame / Raise a middle finger to the sky / And curse his rotten name
The villagers have come in contact with many missionaries promising salvation, but the harsh reality of starvation, AIDS and a warlord who mutilates women makes it difficult to believe a book will set them free. All of the Mormons who were already in the village had failed to bring a single African to the Church. Elders Price and Cunningham are overwhelmed by the situation. Price decides it's Heavenly Father's will that Orlando, Florida is more in need of his services, and Cunningham decides to “Man Up” and teach the villagers the way of the Church, with a few adjustments.
Parker and Stone are brilliant. Somehow, they were able to mix side-splitting dialogue and witty lyrics with cringe-worthy scenes and a bitter taste of the morbid reality we try to ignore. Just when you think you've seen the filthiest thing you could imagine, they go three steps further. If you're not shuddering in horror of what's happening on stage, you're laughing hysterically.
While I want to say I loved every minute of this show, I can't do it in good conscience. I couldn't help but feel dirty and embarrassed during many scenes, and I have to admit that I looked away during some of the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” But overall, this musical is one of the best I've ever seen. I'm even the proud new owner of a Mormon-y t-shirt that says “God's Favorite Musical” on the name tag.
It definitely deserved the 9 Tonys it received, and you should consider seeing it when it goes on tour later this year—Alone. Go alone, or with someone who will appreciate poop humor.