We’re excited to publish the second installment of Behind the Scenes, a 3-part blog series from one of theatre’s most celebrated journalists and critics. In the same vein as Inside the Huddle, this series will provide an expert perspective that’s uniquely personal, focused around the stories and passion at the heart of fan experiences.
“The Book of Mormon,” which swept up nine Tony Awards two years ago, including Best Musical, is an object lesson in How to Talk Dirty and Get Away With It.
Why, by making mock of everything, including AIDS, female circumcision, rape, racism, assassination, and God. All this in a make-believe Uganda, where two young (white) missionaries from Salt Lake City, USA — fat and fumbling Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) and lean mean Elder Price (Andrew Rammels) have come to spread the good word of Joseph Smith and the Latter Day Saints A feminine warmth and softness is supplied by the welcoming Nabulungi (Nikki M. James).
All this is the handiwork of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, smart-set masterminds of television’s animated “South Park,” plus book and music by Robert Lopez (co-creator of 2003’s Tony-winning “Avenue Q”) — with choreography by Casey Nicholaw. The whole works comes directed by Lopez and Nicholaw.
“Mormon,” touted by some reviewers as the greatest, funniest musical ever to reach Broadway, has been packing in the onlookers ever since — despite or because of the warning: “Contains explicit language and sensitive themes throughout” — though anyone with a memory that reaches as far back as 1962 will vividly remember the truly funniest “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” in which the only gods were Roman ones plus the huge, immortal Zero Mostel as Pseudolus the Slave in a pornographic frieze.
One wonders what a certain prominent 2012 political candidate and Mormon would have said of the goings-on in “The Book of Mormon.” Unlikely that we’ll ever know. Sensitive and explicit were not exactly that gentleman’s pursuits. It is a Latter Day than you think, Sir. Just ask Joseph Smith.
The original “Mormon” production opened in 2011 at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre and continually plays to a packed house this summer. You can also catch the show this summer at venues around the world, including Cleveland, Chicago, D.C., and London.
Roger Maxwell is the pen name of a journalist and critic who has been writing about theatre for more than 50 years. He was one of the founders of The Village Voice, where he created the Off-Broadway “OBIE” awards and was an early recipient of the George Jean Nathan award in drama criticism. His beat now is culture and politics for The Villager.