Oh man, where to begin. This is a musical written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of South Park fame, and Robert Lopez, composer of Avenue Q, Coco and Frozen fame. Just looking at that, you should know what you are getting into. Trey and Matt have already shown off their musical chops in previous outings such as Cannibal: The Musical and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Lopez, of course, has plenty of bona fides in the catchy, well written music department. It's also run on Broadway since 2011, so it's gotta have something going for it, right? Anycrap, a chance to pick up a couple of tickets for a good price dropped in my lap and I took it, so I could give my long suffering spouse a nice present. She super loves musicals. Fair Warning: From here on out, there be spoilers. The last paragraph will be spoiler free if you just want the FACE Rating, so pop on down there if you want.
|SPOOKY MORMON PLAY BILL!|
In that delightful coincidence that these sorts of stories have, Price and Cunningham are paired up and shipped off to Uganda, which is about as far away from Orlando, Florida as you can get. Things immediately go south when they arrive and have their luggage stolen by the local warlord, General Butt-Fucking Naked (named because when he kills people and drinks their blood, he does so "butt-fucking naked"). This character is also based on the real life General Butt Naked, which is horrifying. Anyway, they meet the locals, who teach them about their really shitty existence and sing a lovely song about the phrase that helps them get through their troubles, Hasa Diga Eebowei, which roughly translates as "Fuck you, God". You can see where this is going.
The village head's daughter Nabulungi becomes enchanted by Price and Cunningham's stories of a better way and stories of a safe paradise, in this case, Salt Lake City or as she spells it "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" and convinces the rest of the village to listen, even after the General comes in and shoots a dude for saying "Hey, maybe you shouldn't cut off a woman's clitoris". Elder Price on the other hand, storms off in a fit of "holy fuck this place is awful" and tells Cunningham to slag off. Cunningham decides to take it upon himself to teach the villagers, even though he hasn't actually read the Book of Mormon.
After a "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream", which is one of the highlight musical numbers for the show in my opinion, Price returns to the mission to try and make another go at it. Cunningham has been playing super fast and loose with the teachings in an effort to help the Ugandan people, and to maintain their interest in conversion. Price decides to go try and convert the General, so that the villagers will be safe. He gets the book of Mormon shoved up his rectum for his trouble. This causes him to lose faith, and drown his sorrows at the local coffee shop, which is a super hilarious to me detail.
Nabulungi and the other villagers are baptized into the Mormon faith, after which a musical number about the complete cluelessness of the missionaries is sung named "I am Africa". It's not the best number and really pushes some less than good stereotypes, though it is heavily implied that it is the missionaries who are being complete idiots for believing this. So I guess it punches up?
The Mission President (praise Christ) shows up because of the record number of conversions has impressed everyone back home. To honor his visit, the villagers perform a play within a play that is the story of Joseph Smith, American Moses, as they were taught by the unreliable Elder Cunningham. This is one of the funniest moments in the play for me. The song is super catchy, unbelievably offensive, but so earnest and sincere. The actors do a great job here because despite the massive irreverence of the tales told, it upholds at its center a core philosophy of "Be Kind, Help Each Other, and Treat Others Equally". It is still a complete disaster as the Mission President hears about how Joseph Smith fucks a frog to cure his AIDS after the wizard Moroni from the Starship Enterprise tells him it is God's will...yeah, it's that kind of play within a play.
The Mission President storms off telling them they are "as far from Latter Day Saints as you can get", and everyone is super depressed. Nabulungi is heart broken since she found out the tales Elder Cunningham told weren't true. Elder Price however realizes that Cunningham really was trying to help people, and that even if the stories were made up, they gave people hope and helped them feel happy, and that is the most important thing. They go on to help the villagers drive off General Butt-Fucking Naked the next time he comes around (with vague threats of Jesus Torpedoes that will turn him into a Lesbian...just go with it at this point). The rest of the village tells Nabulungi that they always knew the stories were supposed to be metaphors for life ("Do you really think a man fucked a frog? That would be really fucking stupid."), and in an implied future, all the villagers and missionaries (and even General Butt-Fucking Naked has converted at this point) are using the "door to door" method to try and convert others to the "Book of Arnold".
The End! Spoilers end here!
Let me go ahead and say that no one comes off as looking particularly good in a lot of ways. Stereotypes fly fast and furious, there's clear notes of "white savior", "noble savage", and "Mormons have crazy beliefs". There's a heavy tinge of irony here, and much the same way "Sausage Party" mitigated some of its excesses with self awareness and positivity, so does the "Book of Mormon", but let's face facts. Just because you wink and nod at something terrible does not necessarily make it less terrible. Then again, the underlying messages of "be good to each other, help each other, and treat everyone equally" are actually really good morals, even if they are surrounded in a heap of...really amazingly hilarious offensive shit. It is offensively hilarious or hilariously offensive, but either way, I laughed until my face hurt.
On the FACE Rating System, this gets a solid two Smiley faces (in neat button down shirts, black slacks, and a neat black tie each). This is a spectacular show featuring several truly wonderful musical performances, a nice core moral, and a lot of completely offensive yet amazing jokes and gags. It both embraces stereotypes and subverts them, and the mix is somewhat disorienting, but it really has to be seen to be believed. Just be prepared for the onslaught of offense comedy.