Last week, The Book of Mormon, the Broadway musical from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, opened to surprising critical plaudits. By setting dark topics like religious hypocrisy, AIDS, and genocide in Africa to cheery melodies, it "achieves something like a miracle," says Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Is the show really so great — or just offensive, juvenile humor set to show tunes?
The musical is wimpy and sloppy: The Book of Mormon is "slick and smutty," as well as "flabby, amateurish, and very, very safe," says Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal. Mocking Mormons on Broadway is like shooting fish in a barrel; it seems Parker and Stone are too cowardly to mock anything that might shoot back. This is a "mediocre brand-name show," and while I heard people laughing in the theater, it was really just the "sound of people who paid good money... trying to persuade themselves that it lived up to their expensive expectations."
"Everybody but Muhammad"
No, it's brave and perfectly executed: "This is what 21st-century Broadway can be," says Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly, just as long as "Broadway has the balls." It's "R-rated, hilarious, humane... revolutionary and classic, funny and obscene, uncompromising in production standards and unafraid of just about anything else." From the well-crafted songs to the "uniformly nimble and charismatic cast" to the costumes, lighting, sets, and dance numbers, every element of the production is thoughtful and well-done. I predict it will win an "armload of awards."
"The Book of Mormon (2011)"
And surprisingly sweet: While "sweetness" is not the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of South Park, the "real genius of Parker-Stone" is the "underlying humaneness of their view of the world, packaged in surreal, scatological, obscene, and invariably hilarious scripts and performances," says Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic. With The Book of Mormon, they set their compassionate sights on religion, and it's "the best thing they have ever done."
"The triumph of The Book Of Mormon"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- Mike Huckabee's head-scratching advice to Christian voters
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- How Scotland's independence movement lost the vote and still won everything
- 6 super-helpful iOS8 tricks you probably don't know about
Subscribe to the Week