'Book of Mormon' bows on Broadway: How offensive is it?
There were no protesters to be found outside NYC’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre on 49th St. yesterday evening. Ordinarily, that information wouldn’t be news, but last night wasn’t quite an ordinary occasion: It was the first preview performance of The Book of Mormon, the new musical by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez. (Check out EW’s Q&A with them in this week’s issue.) An irreverent tuner about two Mormon missionaries in poverty-stricken Uganda, Mormon has been touted as the most potentially obscene production to ever grace the Great White Way. So just how off-color is it?
Very. The show is jam-packed with foul language (the title of one big number, sung in the Ugandans’ language, translates as “F— You, God!”), sexually explicit jokes, and enough blasphemy to knock your church-going grandma right out of her seat. But the show saves the bulk of its jabs for Mormons themselves, who are depicted as chipper, repressed, and gullible. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has posted an official statement about the show on its website, saying, “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.”) It’s worth noting that nothing in The Book of Mormon is really any dirtier or more heretical than an average episode of South Park, although the fact that it’s on an old-fashioned Broadway stage adds a bit of contextual bite.
Judging by the roars of laughter and applause throughout the first performance, the audience seemed less offended than delighted. Not even a technical malfunction could dim their enthusiasm: When a sound glitch about ten minutes into the first act forced the show to restart from the beginning, the crowd cheered in support as one audience member shouted, “Blame Canada!”–a reference to the Oscar-nominated tune from 1999’s South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. Two hours later, the musical’s finale was greeted with a standing ovation, and Parker was mobbed by photo-hungry fans in the lobby. (Stone and Lopez made their exits more stealthily.)
Whether or not The Book of Mormon can draw crowds beyond a core audience of shock-proof South Park fans remains to be seen. (The show officially opens on March 24.) It’s certainly not targeted at the faint of heart or the strong of faith.