There was no need to worry.
While I am a big fan of “South Park,” I cannot claim I understood the show’s humor immediately. I also had some reservations about a comedy musical by the creators of “South Park,” Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with Robert Lopez of “Q Avenue” fame, based on the Mormon religion. When I saw some performances from “The Book Of Mormon” on the Tony Awards, I was still not convinced. A sampling of the original cast recording did nothing to change my mind.
However, I had faith.
The performance I saw of ‘The Book Of Mormon” at Boston’s Opera House, right here in Mitt Romney country (sort of), was one of the funniest, most clever spectacles I have ever witnessed, up there with “Spamalot” and “Monty Python at City Center.” I can understand people who have not experienced the cutting edge humor of “South Park” being offended and baffled by the content, since “The Book Of Mormon” is not unlike its animated Comedy Central cousin. The play gleefully crosses all lines of good taste, but with love, not hatred. The show parodies everything from religion to musicals themselves. The story line was multi-layered, with twists and turns wrapped around a traditional storyline. It is difficult to think of one cultural taboo that what not addressed in song during the performance. Like “South Park,” the story eventually reveals a moral, although here, it is much less couched in cynicism.
One reason the play succeeds is the music. The songs are all first rate, even if they are about denial, dysentery, and “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” (Salt Lake City). They are often homages to musicals of the past, including “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Lion King,” and everything in between.
You can read more about the play elsewhere, but what really stood out at the Opera House was the performance of Christopher John O’Neill as the Elder Arnold Cunningham, and surprisingly, this is his professional stage debut. O’Neill is probably best known for his work on Funny Or Die’s “The Chris and Paul Show.” His physical comedy brought the house down time and time again, as did his innocent, “Star Wars” obsessed, fish-out-of-water man-child voice and mannerisms. Seeing O’Neill on stage felt like the witnessing of the birth of a future star. Hopefully, when the touring version of the play comes to your town, O’Neill will be in the cast.
Another interesting note was the “Playbill.” Because of the racy nature of the play, the songs performed were conspicuously absent, nor was the name of the drug lord’s character included in the booklet.
The day after the play, for the first time in my life, I listened to an original Broadway cast recording in my car. From what I can tell by the audio, O’Neill was a more animated Elder Cunningham.
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