Friday, April 29, 2011

Broadway Postcard No. 5: 'Mormon' is best musical of the season

Andrew Randells and Josh Gad encounter a Ugandan,‭
‬in The Book of Mormon.

By Hap Erstein

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been freaking out television’s Standards and Practices folks‭ (‬a/k/a censors‭) ‬for almost‭ ‬15‭ ‬years with their purposely profane animated series‭ ‬South Park,‭ ‬so it should come as no surprise that their first Broadway musical,‭ ‬The Book of Mormon,‭ ‬will never get any awards for good taste.‭

They should,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬clear off their mantelpieces for the imminent arrival of multiple Tony Awards for this runaway hit musical,‭ ‬by all accounts the season’s best.

It is the tale of a couple of squeaky-clean,‭ ‬though enormously misguided Mormon missionaries who head off to Uganda to spread the word of Joseph Smith to the perfectly content natives.‭ ‬It shows not only Parker and Stone’s well-established talent for irreverence,‭ ‬but a firm awareness of the tenets of musical theater and a working knowledge of its history.‭

For when,‭ ‬late in the second act,‭ ‬the carefully but erroneously taught Ugandans enact their version of the genesis of Mormonism,‭ ‬Parker and Stone are savvy enough to relate it in a tongue-in-cheek send up of the Little House of Uncle Thomas sequence from‭ ‬The King and I.

Joining the South Park guys to write the score and script is Robert Lopez‭ (‬Avenue Q‭)‬,‭ ‬and the songs have a similar infectious sweetness,‭ ‬with plenty of that show’s shock punch line language.‭ (‬CBS,‭ ‬which is already wondering how to identify the play‭ ‬The Motherf‭**‬ker with the Hat on the Tony Awards,‭ ‬will also have to be resourceful to find a musical number from‭ ‬The Book of Mormon that can be aired intact.‭)

The main thing is that Broadway has a big fat hit in‭ ‬Mormon,‭ ‬one that is likely to attract a new young audience to the theater,‭ ‬which is great.‭ ‬And even though the religion is certainly the target of lots of ridicule,‭ ‬do not be surprised if this show attracts new disciples to it.

‭ * * *

During the day,‭ ‬I pursued a feature story on casting directors,‭ ‬specifically the New York-based casting pros who have South Florida theater clients,‭ ‬talking about how they aid in matching theaters and performers long distance.‭ ‬I had lunch at the Edison Hotel Café‭ (‬a/k/a The Polish Tea Room‭) ‬with Janet Foster,‭ ‬who casts shows for Palm Beach Dramaworks.‭ ‬Then I headed downtown to the Pearl Studios,‭ ‬where I met and interviewed Bob Cline,‭ ‬whose clients include the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.‭ ‬It’s turned into a good story.

Then,‭ ‬before dinner with Bill Hirschman of the‭ ‬South Florida Theater Review,‭ ‬my former on-air partner on the Internet TV show‭ ‬Aisle Say,‭ ‬I high-tailed it to Bloomingdale’s to buy a guilt gift for my wife,‭ ‬who stayed home in Florida while I got to play this week in New York.‭

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