"The Book of Mormon" opened Tuesday night at the Fox. Is there anyone interested in St. Louis theater that doesn't know it's sort of the anti-"Sound of Music"? It's packed to the earlobes with jokes, both verbal and non-, of the sort that will leave almost everyone in the audience thinking, "I can't believed I laughed at that."
Our heroes, Elder Price (the Mitt Romney-jawed Mark Evans) and the delightfully schlubby Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O'Neill) are sent out to do their two-year stint as missionaries. Price, the kind of guy Sweet Polly Purebred would swoon over, has been dreaming of Orlando as a base, since it seems so perfect, just like him. There's an old Yiddish proverb that translates roughly as "Man plans. God laughs." Not only does Price get science-fiction geek Cunningham as a partner, they send him to Uganda. And off we go.
Sly and not so sly references to elsewhere on Broadway slip in - not surprisingly, there's a fair amount of "Lion King", for instance. And bursts of Bob Fosse-style choreography performed by men dressed like managers at Steak 'n Shake is nothing short of fabulous. In fact, the dancing is one of the forgotten highlights of this show.
Alas, another highlight, the lyrics, sometimes succumb to the still occasionally fragile temperament of the sound system at the Fox. Much better than a few years ago, but for a show like this where half the zing is in the zingers, it's a shame.
Don't go if you're easily offended by caricatures and jokes about AIDS, defecation, Starbucks and gloves that don't fit. It's hard to imagine a musical that talks about infundibulation, too. Artists since the beginning of time have set out to make people think, and one of the main ways they do that is to push the boundaries. (How old were you when you learned art wasn't just about what was beautiful?) The creators of "Mormon" are Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the "South Park" dudes, and Robert Lopez, who's a co-creator of "Avenue Q". Lopez and his wife write songs for Disney musicals - how ironic is that? Whether or not they, particularly Parker and Stone, considered themselves artists early in their career, that's what they've done.
And extra credit to the entire cast who've learned the book well enough not to break up the entire show. I can only imagine what early rehearsals must have been like. I'm not sure if the New York Times was correct in calling it the best musical of the century - come on, we've got a couple of years yet to go - but it's remarkable.
The Fox Theatre
through March 3, 2013