How many Mormons does it take to baptize a Ugandan?

Parker, Stone make good with uproarious Book of Mormon

Joan Marcus

Be you Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Sikh, Satanist, Wiccan or Undecided, you’re most likely familiar with the Judeo-Christian creation belief in which the entire universe sprang into existence thanks to God’s diligent efforts over a particularly eventful seven days. Well, on the metaphorical eighth day, Matt Stone, Trey Parker and Robert Lopez brought forth the funniest musical in recent memory, The Book of Mormon. And it was a damn sight better than just “good.”

The Book of Mormon, which garnered nine Tony Awards, numerous Best Musical awards from the likes of the Drama League and the New York Drama Critics Circle, and a Grammy during its initial run on Broadway, opened its first national tour in Denver Aug. 19. For a show this lauded and this anticipated, the fact that Stone and Parker chose to debut the traveling version in Denver speaks volumes about their love of and allegiance to Colorado.

Stone and Parker are the minds behind the hilariously profane, long-running cartoon South Park. Lopez is co-creator of another Broadway behemoth, Avenue Q, that brought Sesame Street-style puppets into the raunchy, real world. Is it any wonder, then, that The Book of Mormon is — from cover to cover, so to speak — an over-the-top laugh fest that joyfully embraces non-politically correct humor at every turn?

More surprising than its equal-opportunity irreverence is that The Book of Mormon devoutly celebrates classic, big-budget Broadway musicals in an almost slavish manner. Strip away the AIDS and baby rape jokes and you’re left with the simple story, catchy tunes, crisp choreography (courtesy of Casey Nicholaw and including a tap dance number), bright smiles and happy ending of a Golden Era offering. Stone, Parker and Lopez have written a love letter to the Great White Way. It just happens to be a love letter stuffed to overflowing with four-letter words and fart jokes.

At the beginning of The Book of Mormon, Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner) are paired up as a team for their missionary assignment in Uganda. Price is a Mormon golden boy expected to do great things, while Cunningham is a misfit with a penchant for creative truth telling. Neither was expecting to be sent to Uganda, but the news hits Price harder. He had his heart set on spreading the Mormon word in sunny Orlando, Fla.

Immediately upon their arrival, the would-be proselytizers discover that the Ugandans have far bigger problems than the white boys from Utah might have imagined. In the show’s most toe-tappingly outlandish and audacious musical number, “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” the Ugandans enumerate their woes, including forced female circumcision, starvation, poverty and the tyranny of a local warlord whose name is too side-splittingly funny to spoil here. I can relate, as a barometer for how badly The Book of Mormon will offend you, that “hasa diga eebowai” translates into “Fuck you, God!”

Despite their Odd Couple dynamic and the utter uselessness of the other missionaries in their group — which is led by Elder McKinley (Grey Henson in, unbelievably, his first professional performance and doing his best to carry on the proud legacy of Stephen Stucker in the Airplane! movies) — Price and Cunningham manage to pique the interest of the locals. Once de facto leader Mafala (Kevin Mambo) and his comely daughter, Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware), start asking about Joseph Smith and Salt Lake City, the boys are sure they’ll convert the whole village.

Of course, trouble soon enters paradise. Price’s ego, Cunningham’s lies, the blood lust of the local warlord and an unexpected visit from the BMOC (that’s Big Mormon in Charge) conspire to turn the mission into a total clusterfuck. Will the Mormons convert any new followers? Will the ghost of Joseph Smith, or perhaps Jesus himself, appear to save the day? Will Elder Cunningham ever learn Nabulungi’s name?

It is a testament to the craftsmanship of The Book of Mormon that it makes hamburger out of so many sacred cows yet never feels mean-spirited. Because no topic is safe and no one is innocent, Stone, Parker and Lopez can lampoon everyone without truly offending anyone. And to top that astounding feat off, their creation is possibly the funniest piece of Broadway zaniness I have ever seen. At intermission, the woman in front of me commented that her cheeks were literally hurting from laughing so hard for so long. I guarantee you that there will be a lot of sore cheeks coming out of The Book of Mormon for years to come.