THE BOOK OF MORMON by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone (Mirvish). At the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King West). Runs to June 9. Sold out. See details about daily lottery at mirvish.com. 416-872-1212. See listing. Rating: NNNN
The Book Of Mormon is the smartest, funniest and most refreshing new musical to come out of Broadway in years. What's ironic is that its savage satire and X-rated language are tempered by a sweet story that draws on every musical theatre trope in the book.
Mismatched young Mormon missionaries Elder Price (Mark Evans) and Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O'Neill) are sent from Utah to Uganda to preach the word of Christ and the Latter-Day-Saints. Instead of meeting noble people harmonizing about the circle of life (take that, Lion King), however, they're confronted with impoverished villagers dealing with AIDS, female circumcision and genocide. The Africans' anthem, Hasa Diga Eebowai, plays like an X-rated version of Hakuna Matata.
What's remarkable is the fine line the creators walk between edgy satire and bad taste. Then again, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done exactly that through 16 seasons of South Park (not to mention its hilarious movie musical), while Robert Lopez brought Generation Y irony to Broadway in Avenue Q.
Casey Nicholaw's choreography and direction (Parker co-directed) nail every scene, from surreal numbers like Spooky Mormon Hell Dream (with cameos by villains like Attila the Hun, Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer and... Johnny Cochrane) to the smug self-righteousness of songs like I Believe and I Am Africa. Historic sequences about the history of Mormonism pay off in a savage scatological number deep in the second act.
I saw and reviewed the original Broadway production, and while Scott Pask's sets and Ann Roth's costumes translate well to the national tour, there's something missing. For one thing, the sound was better in the more intimate Eugene O'Neill Theater (some of the lyrics in the choral numbers don't come across), which has half as many seats as the Princess of Wales, and a few key parts don't come through as vividly.
As Elder Cunningham, sketch performer O'Neill is annoying and funny, but he's not endearing, an essential element of his character; and Samantha Marie Ware's resourceful, earnest Nabulungi sounded shrill and screechy on her high notes opening night.
But those are quibbles. There's a reason why this is the hottest ticket in town. If you don't get in (or the tour doesn't return to accommodate demand), feel free to sing Hasa Diga Eebowai.