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Mar 272011
 

book of mormon 517x600 Critics Roundup: South Park creators musical The Book of Mormon triumphs on BroadwayIt looks as though every­one got the joke after all. Even in Utah, it seems, with no damning art­icles or neg­at­ive reviews. Time reports:

“I was pre­pared for scato­lo­gical humor, gen­er­ous doses of the F-word, and off-color bawdiness—this is South Park without net­work cen­sor­ship, remem­ber?” a Mor­mon reviewer blogged on BeliefNet, “but I wasn’t pre­pared for my Mor­mon faith to be lam­pooned with any sens­it­iv­ity. I was happy to be wrong.”

“I was expect­ing to be offen­ded,” The Salt Lake Tribune quotes Anne Christensen, a 22-year-old Mor­mon New Yorker who saw a pre­view, “but was pleas­antly sur­prised by how incred­ibly sweet it was.”

“The Book of Mor­mon,” has been seven years in the mak­ing for Trey Parker and Matt Stone, known as the cre­at­ors of South Park. The “Avenue Q” com­poser Robert Lopez com­pleted the cre­at­ive team. It is a satir­ical show about Mor­mons who travel from Utah to Uganda — strange but true. And it’s worked. Here’s a sampling of the crits:

By smash­ing together cul­tural extremes – prim, über-Caucasoid Mor­mons and long-suffering, hope-starved Afric­ans – the cre­at­ors lam­poon west­ern illu­sions about that com­plex con­tin­ent (the anthem “I Am Africa” is sung by dis­tinctly pale cast mem­bers), while scor­ing laughs off the sort of hor­rors that should never be put on a Broad­way stage (“I have mag­gots in my scro­tum” is a recur­ring lament by one vil­la­ger). We chortle dis­gustedly at an African man who thinks rap­ing a baby will cure his Aids (a doc­u­mented crime), but truly grot­esque is the notion that a couple of Bible-toting white boys can be of any real help. For those of us who love a well-made musical with satir­ical bite, the show is manna from heaven. — The Observer

This bois­ter­ously out­rageous show can feel at times oddly famil­iar. The laughter is steady but nos­tal­gic, hark­ing back to clas­sic routines that have been refur­bished with more dar­ing explet­ives. Gran­ted, it’s not easy to sus­tain a giddy level of hil­ar­ity over two full acts — even Aris­to­phanes and the Marx Broth­ers hit stale patches. “The Book of Mor­mon” occa­sion­ally has that fresh-from-the-can, vitamin-enriched fla­vor, but it has a great com­pens­at­ory weapon: the propuls­ive verve of a run­away hit. — The Los Angeles Times

I know, I know: You’ve been indul­ging for years in a little scato­lo­gical side busi­ness called “South Park.” But now, you’ve dis­covered your true call­ing — as the wit-spewing class clowns of Broadway.

Along with Robert Lopez, one of the uproari­ous brains behind “Avenue Q,” Matt Stone and Trey Parker have devised “The Book of Mor­mon,” the price­lessly enter­tain­ing act of musical-comedy sub­ver­sion that opened Thursday night at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.

The mighty O’Neill him­self would have to have given it up for this extraordin­ar­ily well-crafted musical assault on all things holy. The mar­vel of “The Book of Mor­mon” is that even as it pro­fanes some ser­i­ous art­icles of faith, its spirit is any­thing but mean. The ardently devout and comed­ic­ally chal­lenged are sure to dis­agree. Any­one else should excitedly approach the altar of Parker, Stone and Lopez and expect to drink from a cup of some of the sweetest poison ever poured. — The Wash­ing­ton Post

But the most sur­pris­ing thing about Mor­mon, at least for those only cas­u­ally famil­iar with Parker and Stone’s pre­vi­ous work, may be its inher­ent sweet­ness. The duo and Lopez avoid the self-congratulatory snark com­mon to their gen­er­a­tion of com­edy writers in gen­eral and musical-comedy writers in par­tic­u­lar. Neither the Mor­mons nor the Ugandans are mocked for their belief sys­tems; they’re par­od­ied for their mutual human fallibility.

If any­thing, Mor­mon cel­eb­rates, in its fash­ion, the capa­city for faith (and doubt) that ulti­mately brings these dis­par­ate char­ac­ters together. For all its cute, know­ing moments, there is an exuber­ance in the show’s spirit — par­tic­u­larly in its score, which com­bines musical-theater, rock and world-music tex­tures with above-average dex­ter­ity — that makes it feel both fresh and unabashedly tra­di­tional. — USA Today

By the end of a night more emo­tional than many will expect, the show is arguing the import­ance of find­ing a spir­itual cen­ter, if not exactly embra­cing the doc­trinal details of that most Amer­ican of reli­gions (and, as cooler heads may cur­rently be observing in Salt Lake City, when you are the most Amer­ican of reli­gions, it could be seen as a badge of honor to be ridiculed on Broad­way). In many ways, the rich, lib­eral do-gooders of “We Are the World” (the object of a hil­ari­ous Act 2 take­down) come off worse than the col­lec­tion of naïve mis­sion­ar­ies try­ing to save the world. And “The Book of Mor­mon” even makes a case that it takes those suf­fer­ing real pain to under­stand the real role of reli­gion in our lives. — The Chicago Tribune

In the end, the mes­sage is not against Mor­mon­ism but lit­er­al­ism: that whatever our dif­fer­ent myths, meta­phors and rituals, the real pur­pose of reli­gion is to give us a higher pur­pose and a sense of com­pas­sion in the uni­verse. “The moral,” the writer Andrew Sul­li­van observed on open­ing night, “is that reli­gion is both insane and neces­sary at the same time.” — The New York Times

This musical spills over with con­fid­ence in the mater­ial and cast, a roster of rel­at­ive unknowns. As Elder Price, a nice but nar­ciss­istic mis­sion­ary, Andrew Ran­nells has whole­some good looks and a whole lot of tal­ent that shines through in every note and ges­ture. Josh Gad gets big laughs and shows a big heart as Elder Cun­ning­ham, a chubby screw-up with a hero inside him. Michael Potts lends fine sup­port as a nat­ive chief­tain, and Nikki M. James is so radi­ant as Nab­u­lungi, the bridge between her vil­la­gers and the Amer­ic­ans, you wish you could wrap your arms around her and pro­tect her from harm. Rory O’Malley leads the band of Mor­mon eld­ers and he sells pro­duc­tion num­bers with such infec­tious energy you want to join in on stage. — The New York Daily News

But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Com­edy never is:

But don’t let any­body try to tell you that “The Book of Mor­mon” is suit­able for any­one other than 12-year-old boys who have yet to gradu­ate from fart jokes to “Glee.” A couple of reas­on­ably effect­ive pro­duc­tion num­bers not­with­stand­ing, it’s flabby, ama­teur­ish and very, very safe… The cre­at­ors of “South Park” like to call them­selves “equal-opportunity offend­ers,” but if you think there’s any­thing risky about “The Book of Mor­mon,” you’re kid­ding your­self. Mak­ing fun of Mor­mons in front of a Broad­way crowd is like shoot­ing trout in a demi­tasse cup. And while we’re on the sub­ject of imit­a­tion cour­age, let it be duly noted that if the title of this show were “The Quran,” it wouldn’t have opened. — The Wall Street Journal

The Book of Mor­mon, the end­lessly cheery, inter­mit­tently enjoy­able new Broad­way musical, can be defined by what it is not. It is not melod­ic­ally mem­or­able: the effect­ive, dis­pos­able songs, by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone, plun­der at least a dozen shows in the Pop­u­lar Broad­way Song­book, includ­ing Bye Bye BirdieWicked, and, so overtly that roy­al­ties should be paid, The Lion King… The Book of Mor­mon is not a romantic com­edy. It’s a bromantic com­edy, with Josh Gad and Andrew Ran­nells as the untidy/tidy main Mor­mon pair. They work hard but the res­ult, for this critic, was comic exhaus­tion. — The Fin­an­cial Times

Let’s let Ben Brant­ley in his New York Times review sum it up:

This is to all the doubters and den­iers out there, the ones who say that heaven on Broad­way does not exist, that it’s only some myth our ancest­ors dreamed up. I am here to report that a new­born, old-fashioned, pleasure-giving musical has arrived at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, the kind our grand­par­ents told us left them walk­ing on air if not on water. So hie thee hence, non­be­liev­ers (and believ­ers too), to “The Book of Mor­mon,” and feast upon its sweetness.

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