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The Book of Mormon offers hilarious religious satire

By Jason Herring — April 3, 2015

While I was flipping through the program for the Book of Mormon before watching the musical, I noticed something bizarre. Between details about the show and credits for the company, there was a series of full-page spreads advertising the Mormon church.

It’s surprising, because the musical seems like the last thing the church would want to be involved with. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators behind the Book of Mormon and South Park, take every opportunity to make jabs at the religion. And the message the duo tries to convey with the play is clear: Mormonism is just some crap this guy from upstate New York made up 200 years ago.

The musical follows a pair of baby-faced Mormons as they embark on a two-year missionary trip. Elder Price, brilliantly portrayed by Billy Harrigan Tighe, is a well-spoken and has his heart set on serving in Orlando, Florida. He’s dismayed when he learns that not only will he be partnered with pathological liar and all-around loser Elder Cunningham (played by the hilarious A.J. Holmes), but that the two will be serving in Uganda.

Living in Africa is jolting for the naive missionaries. The boys quickly learn upon meeting members of the local village that the country is ravaged by AIDS, poverty, female circumcision and a complete irreverence towards God. The villagers sing a Hakuna Matata-style chant that the Elders are horrified to learn translates to “fuck you, God!”

The musical numbers are the definite highlights of the show. All of the songs have the high quality choreography and vocal work that’s to be expected from a Broadway production.

“Turn It Off” offers the most biting satire. In the song, the Mormons describe how they deal with negative thoughts by “just turning them off, like a light switch.” Watching the Elders recount stories of abusive fathers and repressed gay thoughts while tap dancing with smiles plastered across their faces is a hilarious contrast.

Another highlight is “Baptize Me,” which works on a double-entendre that likens baptism to losing your virginity. Holmes plays Elder Cunningham with the perfect amount of awkwardness to make the piece work.

The rest of the musical excels too, with the only sleeper track being the drab “Sal Tlay Ka Siti.” Otherwise, the show keeps its pace and the jokes come at a breakneck speed. My personal favourite is the dream sequence in which Elder Price finds himself in a “spooky Mormon Hell” populated by Hitler, dancing skeletons and giant cups of coffee.

There are some problems with the play. Blanket stereotypes about Mormon and Ugandan people are the basis for nearly every joke. Some jokes take politically incorrect too far, like the running gag about raping babies.

If you can let the most offensive jokes slide, you’ll find the Book of Mormon to be an exemplary production that’s well worth seeing.

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