Maybe once there was a play as funny and profane, as unexpected and flat-out wonderful as “The Book of Mormon.” Maybe.
It would be a good bar bet to come up with anything as original, as based in accuracy, and have it be as hilarious.
‘The Book of Mormon,” at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, is the hottest ticket in New York for a reason. From Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the fabulously warped minds that gave the world “South Park,” and Robert Lopez of “Avenue Q” fame, this musical defines irreverent and manages to make juvenile gags funny for sophisticated audiences.
Two young Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham (Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad), are dispatched to Uganda to convert people. The village they’re sent to is desperately poor, and a local warlord, General Butt-F***ing Naked, is on his own mission — to perform clitoridectomies on village women. Men rape babies. Many are infected with AIDS. Jesus curses.
Such blatant irreverence works when the writing and lyrics are as witty as these. If it were not evident by now, “The Book of Mormon” is not for those with delicate sensibilities or children. Even the ticket warns: “Parental advisory: explicit language.”
To bring home just how explicit and irreverent this is, one of the big numbers is “F*** You, God.” Yet even those who believe, those who would never make light of poverty or sickness, will find themselves cheering. The choreography, acting, writing, direction and singing are terrific.
Not surprisingly, the villagers do not perceive the missionaries as great white hopes.
Elders Price and Cunningham make an odd couple. Price, handsome and ambitious, is determined to personally save the world, soul by soul, and take credit for it. He dearly wanted to be dispatched to Orlando, not Uganda.
Cunningham, sloppy and socially maladroit – his laugh alone is cringe-worthy – just wants a friend. As Cunningham explains, “I lie a lot.”
Rannells looks born to this part. He has a fresh-scrubbed, apple-cheeked look that fairly screams innocent America. Gad looks like the underside of an unmade bed in a frat house.
When they arrive in Uganda, the Mormons stationed there acknowledge they have baptized no one. Shortly after arriving, Price realizes, “Africa is nothing like ‘The Lion King!’ “
How many musicals would work Johnny Cochran into hell with Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler and Genghis Kahn? Yoda, Darth Vader and Joseph Smith also make appearances.
Considering the trio behind this musical – the two whose foul-mouthed young characters broke ranks with other cartoons and the man who helped bring profane puppets to Broadway — audiences might expect something postmodern. But the production numbers are quintessential Broadway, with room for solos, tight dancing and great chorus work.
It takes a certain kind of educated smart aleck to devise such a concept, and Parker, Lopez and Stone can take their rightful places next to Monty Python.