Friday, November 30, 2012

The Book of Mormon Review: Hilarious and Foul-Mouthed, but Also Sweet

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge Gavin Creel and National Company - JOAN MARCUS
  • Joan Marcus
  • Gavin Creel and National Company

The Book of Mormon, the incredibly popular Broadway musical from the geniuses behind South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone), which has won 6,000 Tony Awards (actually nine, including Best Musical), is gracing the San Francisco stage. And like the new iPhone and Pound Puppies on eBay, the show's run sold out immediately.

But don't worry, there's still hope.

See also:

"Reborning": Theater Review

"Clue": Theater Review

SHN is releasing a limited number of tickets through a daily lottery two hours before each show. Tickets are $29 and are a crapshoot (as many as 800 people have tried for a lottery ticket at some performances), but we highly recommend you give it a shot. If the fact that the show sold out in 90 minutes doesn't convince you of its worthiness, allow us to further explain how, like the overzealous Mormons in the opening number sang, this "will change your life."


The Book of Mormon is an outrageously satirical religious takedown that follows two eager young Mormons sent on a mission to convert people in Uganda. Elder Price (Gavin Creel) is the charming and charismatic one who can do no wrong. He is paired with the desperate to be liked Elder Cunningham (played with Seinfeldian aplomb by Jared Gertner). When they arrive in the war torn, AIDS-stricken country, to a desperate citizenry ravaged by poverty, rape, and other atrocities, Elder Price exclaims in his pollyanna-ish way: "This is nothing like The Lion King!"

Such lines inform the majority of the raunchy and irreverent humor in the show -- obvious, outlandish, and just shocking enough to be bracing but not offensive -- and it works because its core is so, well, sweet. The play's darker elements (and there are many) are made palatable by snappy song and dance numbers (aided, no doubt by composer Robert Lopez, who did Avenue Q) and include ditties about homosexual repression, frog fucking, and a dream cameo by Hitler wearing shiny pantaloons. In lacing its sardonic ribbing with empathy, The Book of Mormon manages to transcend simple mockery, elevating absurdity to the point where it comes back around to earnestness. (Speaking of absurd, the playbill contains SEVERAL full-page ads from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is so ironic it hurts.)

click to enlarge Shaq, is that you? - ANNA PULLEY
  • Anna Pulley
  • Shaq, is that you?

Joyful without lapsing into cartoonishness, the songs are infinitely hummable, from the gosh-golly goodness of "Hello!" to the soulful "I Believe" to the stirring yet laughable "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" (aka Salt Lake City), sung with undeniable verve by Nabalungi (Samantha Marie Ware). Our favorite number, however, was "Turn It Off," about the Mormon tendency to repress ... everything, particularly sexuality, and performed with mirthful dandyness by Elder McKinley. 

As with any work of genius, The Book of Mormon succeeds not solely for its acerbic cultural critiques and propensity to hilariously call BS on things like racism -- ("I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people," Elder Price sings) -- but also because it speaks to deeper truths about religion, and why we have faith in the often ridiculous tales that make up our belief systems and collective humanity. For all the gallows humor and not-even-a-little-bit-subtle digs at Mormonism, the show's dominating themes are hope and kindness, which is refreshing in our oh so bitter times, where enmity and snark reign supreme.

We didn't expect that salvation might come in the form of show-tune satire, but we're delighted nonetheless.

The Book of Mormon continues through Dec. 30 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (at Taylor), S.F. Lottery tickets are $29 (limit of two).

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. Follow Anna Pulley at @annapulley.
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