It could have been a disaster. I was thinking it might be as I made the transfer from the G train to the E on my way into Manhattan from Brooklyn. “The guys from South Park are making a musical about the Mormon church? This is bound to be a train wreck.” But on my way to the show’s rehearsal space, I passed the Foxwoods Theatre, home of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, and everything was put into perspective.
The Book of Mormon (subtitled “God’s Favorite Musical”) is scheduled to open at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on March 24, a month after previews began. A few weeks ago, a large group of entertainment writers were given an opportunity to see a stripped down rehearsal comprising roughly the first 20 minutes of the show, which featured book, music and lyrics by South Park creators and societal scab-pickers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez, co-creator of Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q. Much of the hype has centered on what layers of sacrilege and offense the partnership might produce, and based upon the brief preview, the quick answer is probably quite a lot.
But to dismiss the show as nothing more than another chapter in what has been a long history of provocative shit-stirring by Parker and Stone would be a mistake. Based on the first few numbers, The Book of Mormon is certainly that, but it’s also lively, hilarious, toe-tapping fun. And, dare I say it, it’s also reverential to its subject matter.
It’s entirely possible the trio came into the press conference knowing they’d need to play nice so as to avoid being added to the hit list of yet another large group of potentially organized and potentially even more angry people. And if that’s what they did, primarily attempt to deflect fury, they did so with a seemingly genuine balance of awe and awesome.
“In terms of Mormonism, we are all fascinated by it,” noted Parker, the admitted instigator of the whole affair. “We didn’t come into this to bash Mormonism; I’ve liked every Mormon I’ve ever met.”
To that end, Parker said they weren’t overly concerned about the consequences of upsetting the LDS, even those who don’t necessarily approach the musical with a sense of humor.
“Mormons are so nice,” he said. “We’re not as worried about them as other people.”
Stone praised the Mormon Church as being a wholly American religion, while Lopez was a bit more direct.
“It rekindles your faith in the miracle that all these people believe in this shit,” he said.
On its surface, The Book of Mormon is sort of like The Odd Couple, only the fastidious stiff and irascible shlub are young elders paired together on a missionary assignment, not to an oversized Manhattan apartment, but rather to Uganda.
“It’s a coming of age story,” said Stone. “The challenge was telling the story honestly.”
“It all comes down to the characters and what they’re doing,” he said.
The primary elders are played by Andrew Rannells, who has done plenty of voice and stage work; and Josh Gad, who has carved out a niche in the goofy best pal role in films like Love and Other Drugs. The pair work well together, and the rest of the cast is also dynamite, from Jesus on down to the elders. When the setting shifts to Uganda, the cast is every bit as strong, especially Michael Potts as Mafala Hatimbi, quite a divergence from his turn as Brother Mouzone on HBO’s The Wire.
Where it all leads after the elders arrive in Uganda remains to be seen, as that’s where the sneak peek ended.
“You’ll know it’s done when you hear the word ‘cunt’ and everyone bows,” Stone said, and he wasn’t kidding; the last song heard in the rehearsal hall featured a torrent of catchy blasphemy, the likes of which anyone hoping the show will be a smash should be more than thrilled with.
For ticket information, visit: www.bookofmormonbroadway.com.