The Book of Mormon: The Joke Is On Whom?

Photo courtesy of Center Theatre Group

Perhaps we live in an age where people can say anything out loud that comes into their heads. And if someone objects to lack of taste or inaccuracy, the protestation can be chalked up to political correctness or the far more insidious “fake news.”

So, if a reviewer sees, for example, the financially successful musical The Book of Mormon at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles and is somewhat repulsed by its ugly, unrelenting need to shock when it should be amusing its audience, there will be plenty of naysayers.

Consider however, momentarily, that Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s crudely animated and puerile TV series South Park, also a hit, reduced its visuals to characters that could have been constructed more creatively in most elementary school art classes. And then add that the series’ humor had a disproportionate share of fart and Jesus jokes and you get the demographic for Parker and Stone: sniveling children who may be adult in body but never matured in their comedic preferences.

Luckily, Parker “co-directed” the musical of The Book of Mormon with a theatrical pro, Casey Nicholaw, and while the book and the songs are hardly noteworthy, it is the professionalism of cast and crew that elevated the show.

Two Mormon missionaries, Elder Price (Liam Tobin) and Elder Cunningham (Jordan Matthew Brown) are selected to go to Uganda to proselytize. And that is about it, folks, for story development. Parker, Stone and Robert Lopez have plenty of moments of zany hijinks, including a dance number that features the image, in Hell, of O.J. Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran. This fantasy sequence is the height of a show whipped together by a triumvirate who have neither grown up nor understand the concept of tonal consistency.

And thus, you get a Uganda warlord who casually executes a villager with a gunshot to the head. Guffaw if you will to repeated jokes (four times, no less) about an African character who has maggots in his scrotum, people joking about getting AIDS, a character that rapes babies and, unfortunately, more.

Still, Nicholaw saves the day with his hilarious, mega-effeminate choreography of his Mormon zealots/dancers. Tobin and Brown, along with Alyah Chanelle Scott as Ugandan tribal girl Nabulungi (Does she write German opera?), have Broadway singing chops and are delightful.

News flash: When you are going for laughs while denigrating the Third World, a little goes a long way. And a lot goes the wrong way.

Author, screenwriter, journalist, playwright, literary consultant. Books include REVOLUTION’S END and BECOMING JIMI HENDRIX. http://brashcyber.com

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