We’ll admit it: while we fully expected to laugh our asses off at The Book of Mormon, the musical written by South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Avenue Q composer and lyricist Robert Lopez, we did not realize that it would also be a full-on, musical lover’s musical. There’s tap dancing, for Christ’s sake! And it’s done too well and placed too perfectly to be ironic — tongue in cheek, sure, funny, yes. But not ironic.

The plot revolves around a couple of young Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, who are sent on their two-year mission to Uganda. Elder Price has a big of a Jesus complex while Elder Cunningham is a weird, awkward guy who lies a lot. Once in Uganda, they find themselves in a village threatened by a warlord named General Butt-Fucking Naked who wants to circumcise all the women. Also, most of the villagers have AIDS.

The two missionaries join the other young Mormon men who’ve been sent to Uganda by Heavenly Father (i.e. God), and find that they have not converted a single African during their time there.

Through a series of misunderstandings, and a lot of imaginative lying, Elder Cunningham begins a streak of conversions that give him self-confidence for the first time in his life. Faith is lost and regained. Feelings are repressed and set free. People say “fuck” — and much, much worse things — a whole lot, and Jesus wears a light-up robe and speaks with the voice of some South Park character, although we couldn’t quite identify whom. And the kicker? There’s actually a very nice message at the end of it all.

Our favorite song of the show has to be the killer opener, “Hello,” which has an ensemble of clean-cut, fresh-faced Mormon boys in their white short-sleeved button-ups and ties ringing doorbells and extolling the virtues of the Book of Mormon to imaginary non-Mormons. It’s not only very funny — all the songs are, really — it’s also a highly complex, multi-part musical number that will reassure anyone who thinks Book of Mormon is nothing more than an excuse for Parker and Stone to make fun of religion. There’s much more to it than that.

We also enjoyed all the “historical” scenes that involved Joseph Smith and the golden plates that the angel Moroni told him were buried in his backyard.

The talent in this show is, naturally, of the highest caliber. It’s a Broadway touring show, after all. However, we have to give a special mention to Candace Quarrels, who played the young African woman Nabalungi and sang and acted her heart out throughout the entire performance. She’s especially good in the duet “Baptize Me,” a sharply sweet song that plays on the strange commingling of religious rites with sexual experience — which anyone who’s ever known especially fervent young Christians is quite familiar with.

Now, if you think South Park goes too far, this is hardly the musical for you. But if you’re ok with sifting through (and hopefully, laughing at) a certain amount of filth in order to see a play that makes some very cogent points and is a whole lot of fun, then by all means go. You can catch Book of Mormon through this Sunday, Feb. 15.

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