'The Book of Mormon' review

Read our five-star review of The Book of Mormon on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.

Tulis McCall
Tulis McCall

An old friend of mine turned Mormon on me a few years ago to the extent that I no longer know who this woman is. I felt like I was watching a perfectly intelligent person be kidnapped by people who believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob, an angel called Moroni delivered golden tablets to Joseph Smith in upstate New York that are the secret basis for this religion, and oh yeah — there is the hair shirt thing. So it was with some trepidation that I saw this show. Even though everyone has been raving about it, I was still cautious.

The good news is that this production bowls you over. You don't have a chance to not like it because it, like the Mormons it depicts, is positive that something good will happen if you just hang around for awhile. And the message is that, in the words of Dr. Seuss, "We are all a little weird, and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love."

Two little Mormon missionaries - are they all white men? - are paired up together and sent to Uganda. Elder Price (Andrew Rannells), who could be the Ken to anyone's Barbie, was hoping for Orlando. Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) is a sad sack grateful to be chosen for anything at all. Disappointment and enthusiasm are thus bound together and shipped east, way east.

Upon their arrival they meet villagers who are suffering from AIDS, drought, disease, and dictators. The villagers teach the two missionaries their favorite uplifting song, "Hasa Diga Eebowai." As life batters them in the head over and over again, it is this song that keeps them going. Price and Cunningham join in with that old-fashioned Mormon enthusiasm, only to find out that this song means, "F--k you, God." Welcome to the world, boys.

At missionary HQ they meet a randy bunch of also white boys led by Elder McKinley (Rory O'Malley) who have nothing to show for their time in Uganda - no Baptisms, no nothin'. But they do have one thing: their own musical theme song to aid them in times of question and doubt. "Turn It Off" - as in, turn off anything that means questioning the Mormon path: thoughts of homosexuality, memories of abuse, guilt of any kind. Welcome to another world, boys.

What follows is a love story where Price and Cunningham have to find their own paths without the other's help. Price tries to flee his fate while Cunningham deals fast and loose with his proselytizing. On the other side of the story, the villagers are caught between swallowing the Book of Mormon (the Third Testament of the Bible) as told by Cunningham, and making it through another day without being killed or having a clitoridectomy.

As a matter of fact, the clitoris is a focal point of this story and is mentioned, oh, about 30 times as a point of focus in Uganda. Here girls are raped and then circumcised (read: genital mutilation) to keep them from getting any ideas or pleasure for the rest of their lives. This subject is bandied about like a beach ball throughout the show along with child rape, frog rape, AIDS, maggot infestation, Spooky Mormon Hell, and Jesus. It is mentioned just enough to get people's attention, but I hope not so much that it will be dismissed as incidental or worse, a myth.

In the end everyone here is gullible and worthy of a dope-slap. From the Mormons to General Butt F--king Naked (Brian Tyree Henry) to the young woman Nabulungi (Nikki M. James), whose name Cunningham never gets right in a running joke that somehow works every time. The Mormons will figure out an answer to any argument. The General would rather kill than argue and wants everything and everyone to belong — to him. Nabulungi — kind of like the Little Mermaid — wants to get out of Dodge and go to Salt Lake City ("Sal Tlay Ka Siti"). Like the rest of us, the gal just wants to belong, period.

Ain't no one or nothing safe in The Book of Mormon, least of all the audience. This show makes you realize that when you are pointing one finger to make fun of someone, there are three fingers pointed back at you. And this news is delivered with a smile — a real one. Parker, Lopez, and Stone have a laser beam precision with the aim of a 10-year-old boy just discovering he can write his name in the snow when he pees. You don't know whether to laugh at the boy's delight or duck and cover. No matter. Either way, you're going to get some on you.

(Photo by Joan Marcus)

"A newborn, old-fashioned, pleasure-giving musical has arrived."
Ben Brantley for New York Times

"The show is blissfully original, irreverent, outspoken and hilarious. And all that's tucked inside good -- no, great -- old-fashioned musical."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"It's a fiendishly well-crafted, hilariously smart — or maybe smartly hilarious — song-and-dance extravaganza. The show's a hoot. The show's a hit."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"Like several shows this season, "Book of Mormon" is too long and comes close to wearing out its welcome before redeeming itself with a strong second act. And like most 12-year-old-boys, it isn't nearly as nasty as it would have us believe. Not that there's anything wrong with that."
Jeremy Gerald for Bloomberg

"Manages to combine outrageous parody, solid storytelling, and sympathetic yet goofy characters."
David Sheward for Back Stage

"One of the most purely enjoyable musicals in years."
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"Brilliantly original, hysterically funny and tunefully irresistible."
Roma Torre for NY1

"In a season of tuners mostly derived from old movies, stories and songs, it's a gold-plated Broadway miracle to encounter something so new and audaciously fresh in every respect of the word."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

"The defining quality of this hugely entertaining show is its sweetness... One of the freshest original musicals in recent memory. It has tuneful songs, clever lyrics, winning characters, explosive laughs and disarmingly intimate moments."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

"Every song enhances the hilarity, expert staging heightens every gag, and the cast of fresh faces is blissfully good... Approaches musical-comedy Rapture"
Steven Suskin for Variety

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter - Variety

Originally published on

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