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'The Book of Mormon' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

March 25, 2011 |  9:34 am

Mormon

For their first big Broadway venture, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the duo behind "South Park," have trained their satirical missile system on the Mormon Church. Along with Robert Lopez of "Avenue Q," they have set out to make a big, full-blooded musical with an irreverently comic heart.

"The Book of Mormon" officially opened Thursday at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York. Directed by Parker and Casey Nicholaw, the show tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries (Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad) who travel to a remote Ugandan village. The musical, which features an original book and score by Parker, Stone and Lopez, satirizes such topics as religion, AIDS and "The Lion King."

Like another high-profile Broadway musical with a name-brand creative team, "The Book of Mormon" has been relentlessly covered by the media. Parker and Stone have gone on the record stating that  "we wanted to make this not just cynical and Mormon bashing, but hopeful and happy," according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been conspicuously low-key about the show. Earlier this year, the church issued a terse statement saying that "the production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."

How did the critics react to the show? It's fair to say that "The Book of Mormon" has made converts out of most of them.

Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the musical "has all the fearlessness one would expect" from the makers of "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut." But at its core, the production is "an old-fashioned musical comedy heart" that "can feel at times oddly familiar."

The New York Times' Ben Brantley called the production "old-fashioned" and "pleasure-giving," a show that "both makes fun of and ardently embraces the all-American art form of the inspirational book musical." As for the ensemble cast, it's "the best in a musical since Susan Stroman's team for 'The Producers.'"

David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter wrote that the team has "created one of the freshest original musicals in recent memory." The show "packs plenty of blissful profanity, sacrilege and politically incorrect mischief," but its "defining quality ... is its sweetness."

The Washington Post's Peter Marks described the show as a "pricelessly entertaining act of musical-comedy subversion" and an "extraordinarily well-crafted musical assault on all things holy." He added that "the piece is ultimately more effective as pop entertainment [than other edgier musicals] because it refreshes the old templates rather than viewing them as worn out."

Elysa Gardner of USA Today wrote that "the most surprising thing about 'Mormon' ...  may be its inherent sweetness." The creative team behind the show manages to "avoid the self-congratulatory snark common to their generation of comedy writers.... Neither the Mormons nor the Ugandans are mocked for their belief systems; they're parodied for their mutual human fallibility."

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Theater review: 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark'

Critic's Notebook: 'Spider-Man' caught in a web of its own making

 

-- David Ng

Photos: Scenes from "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway. Credit: Joan Marcus / Associated Press


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