“I’m taking the reins, I’m crossing the bear, just like Jesus I’m growing a pair”- Elder Cunningham
In 1997, they took television by storm using nothing but construction paper, a pair of scissors, their wit and their voices. Now, after Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny have pissed off every parent and poked at every issue possible, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have set their eyes on Broadway. The play the Book of Mormon has been out for over two years now. It started in Broadway with a premiere date in 2011 and came to Chicago in 2012. I was lucky enough to get a ticket, though they have been sold out for months, and got to see one of the greatest musicals ever put on stage.
Now, those of you who don’t know much about Trey Parker or Matt Stone may be wondering why these two men think they have the ability or right to try and create a musical. Anybody that thinks that has written South Park off without trying to understand or appreciate it. Parker and Stone are perhaps two of the most brilliant and creative people creating television right now. There is no denying that their material is crude and offensive but they also send some very strong messages about the state of the nation and the world. Nothing is safe from ridicule and everybody gets called out. Parker and Stone have proven their musical ability throughout the show South Park, filling their episodes with original songs. What made me realize that they would be able to write a musical was their film, South Park Bigger Longer and Uncut which contained nearly a dozen full-blown, show-stopping musical numbers.
The play is called the Book of Mormon but Mormonism is not the only thing that is targeted. The play follows two young Mormons, Elder Kevin Price and Elder Arnold Cunningham, who have reached the age where they are sent from the Mormon Academy out into the world to embark on their mission. Each Mormon Elder is paired with another Elder and sent to an area in the world to recruit people to the Mormon Church through Baptism. The two main characters could not be more opposite. Elder Price is SuperMormon, the one who knows everything about Mormonism and never sins. Elder Cunningham on the other hand has a habit of making things up when under pressure and has not even read the Book of Mormon. The two a pared together for and sent to Uganda for their mission where there meet a psychotic warlord general, a AIDS ridden tribe obsessed with circumcising their women and a group of Mormons that don’t know how to help the area. Trying to work together, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham try to save the tribe.
This play is a brilliantly written work of art, filled with cleverly crude humor and a light hearted feel. Beyond being a hilarious, good story The Book of Mormon was a well produced musical. I have seen a number of different musicals in my time and this is easily among the top three I have seen on stage. Parker and Stone have an obvious talent for writing, easily and cleverly working humor into their dialogue and song. The two create songs that spoof other well-known musical numbers, following the songs general outline but with an entirely different purpose and message. When the play opened on Broadway, Elder Cunningham was played by Josh Gad but in the Chicago production Ben Platt took over the role and Nic Rouleau played Elder Price in Chicago. Being asked the take the role after appearing in the film Pitch Perfect, Ben Platt stole the show, using every move and mannerism to tell the story of the awkwardly lonely and nerdy Elder Cunningham.
Parker and Stone do great work on South Park and I know a lot of people are not going to agree with me when I say this but I think that their real home is on the stage. The Book of Mormon was the most fun I have had at the theater since I saw Ana Gasteyer as Elphaba in Wicked and even then, I would rather see Book of Mormon again. I hope that the Book of Mormon is not Parker and Stone’s last visit to the Broadway world, I hope they return over and over again. I give the Book of Mormon a 10 out 10. If you live in the Chicago land area and don’t have a ticket, book one. NOW.