The Book of Mormon: sacredly profane song and dance
by DREW ROWSOME-
By the time The Book of Mormon reaches the dance number in "Spooky Mormon Hell" - with gaudy glittery devils, a heavy metal Satan, skeletons bearing doughnuts, Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Genghis Khan and a song-and-dancer too deliciously funny to be revealed - it would seem there is no taboo left to be smashed. Of course there is, there is still a hilarious 45 minutes remaining.
I haven't laughed this hard in a long time. From the opening appearance of Jesus himself in neon drag introduces the opening number where Mormons ring doorbells while singing and dancing their hearts out, right through to the rousing finale where religions of all brands is reduced to rubble, the gags fly fast, furiously and with a relentless rhythm tied to a tuneful score. I initially began taking notes of things I found particularly clever or that garnered an involuntary laugh, but gave up quickly, just jotting down scribbles to jog my memory. Though The Book of Mormon has a very serious, satirical purpose, bless its nasty little heart, it can't resist entertaining the hell out of you.
The jokes are profane, scatological, obscene and vicious with liberal use of four-letter words usually absent from musical theatre. The shock value wears off quickly but the gleeful sheer audacity storms on. There are AIDS jokes, pedophilia jokes, female circumcision jokes, and slurs about most ethnicities and more than a few celebrities. A dead horse is dragged across the stage but it is the sacred cows that take a beating. Some of the laughs are of the "I can't believe they said that" variety, but by the time the cast launches into "I Am Africa," the real raison d'etre is apparent: the song not only spoofs white privilege and colonialism, it smashes it with a comedic sledgehammer, indicts us all, winks and dances on.
Hometown boy Sterling Jarvis (Clybourne Park) is not given enough to do but his is one of the few lead voices that manages to have depth amidst a sound design that favours only the top end of vocal ranges. And he gets a laugh with every variation of the word "clitoris." Camp and prissy are usually complaints about the gay character, but PJ Adzima walks that line with flawless flamboyance. The least subtle - in a show where subtlety is only a subtext - number "Turn It Off," is a showcase for Adzima as the Mormon missionaries sing and dance their big, eventually sequinned, salute to repression. The Book of Mormon as a whole acknowledges, and trades on, the odd erotic power of the starchy Mormon style. But strangely they are willing to give Hitler a blowjob in hell but don't have the nerve to address the porny camp splendour best exemplified by Mormonboyz.com.
With something to offend and delight just about everyone, The Book of Mormon is a true show for the whole family: the unending waves of laughter, gasps of horror and bliss, and crude attempts to sing-a-long with the madly mutating score, showed that I wasn't the only audience member utterly captivated and swept up. There is a reason that The Book of Mormon swept the Tonys and has incredible word of mouth. Ticket demand is so strong, and it is a tragically short run, that there is a lottery system in place for those determined not to be left out - that info is at mirvish.com.