Certain names are enshrined in musical theater history. Eliza Doolittle. Harold Hill. Sally Bowles. General Butt-Fucking-Naked.
The latter character — or any character, for that matter — from Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez's The Book of Mormon likely won't turn up on the program of a benign, geriatric Broadway revue, but its historical impact may end up rivaling those titans of the Great White Way. Like its youth-targeted predecessors Spamalot and Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon has helped introduce a new generation to musical theater, attracting boatloads of spectators who wouldn't go near a Rodgers or a Hammerstein.
For years, getting a Mormon ticket on Broadway was akin to seeing the inside of Fort Knox, and you'd need about as much currency as Fort Knox to scalp a ticket. Earlier this year, the show's long-awaited tour prompted the website of Washington, D.C.,'s Kennedy Center to crash within seconds of opening its Book of Mormon box office; the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, which begins its Mormon run on November 26, had to reroute its customers to Ticketmaster lest its website go all Obamacare on us.
Needless to say, The Book of Mormon is the theatrical event of the year and probably worth every penny, scalped ticket or otherwise. Part of the appeal of the show, which follows two Mormon missionaries absurdly preaching to a war-torn, disease-riddled, famine-starved village in Northern Uganda, is its vulgarity. Characters do, say, and sing things that haven't been done, said, or sung in musical theater history. Words like "filthy" and "offensive" turned up in glowing early reviews, with the New York Post reporting that audience members were "sore from laughing so hard."
"The show does push a couple of boundaries," says Mark Evans, who plays the enthusiastic Elder Price on the tour. "But I think to find it offensive, you're not coming in with enough of an open mind. You need to come in and say, 'OK, I'm going to be taken on a ride somewhere, and I've just got to get to the end.' And by the time you get to the end of the show, you'll see that the heart and the truth and the real purpose of telling this story is far greater than people might consider to be offensive."
Indeed, Parker and Stone, the South Park cocreators who had directed two classically structured movie musicals prior to Mormon, honor the vintage Broadway formula, and they use it to their advantage, finding surprising sweetness and profundity beneath the veneer of jokes about blasphemy, Star Wars, and an army of self-aware clitorises.
"It reiterates the purpose of faith and religion," says Stanley Wayne Mathis, who plays Ugandan village chief Mafala Hatimbi. "I think that once man gets involved and his ego gets involved, we get away from the original purpose of any religion, and while the show does all this poking fun — it talks about all organized religions — by the time we get into the second act, it does begin to tell you what it's really supposed to be about."
"Everyone says, 'You're just mocking Mormons for two and a half hours,' " Evans adds. "No, it's a celebration of faith in general, and the moral and message of the story is that no matter who you are and no matter what you believe in, if what you believe in makes you a stronger, better, happier person, then by all means do it. I think people leave feeling joyous and having had a delightful time, and they thought they were coming to laugh at some crass, crude jokes."