"The Book of Mormon" is a musical laced with profanity, seriously offensive stereotypes and things that would make a fifth-grade boy laugh insanely through recess.
But the show, now in its second San Francisco run at the Orpheum Theatre, does it all masterfully. And that should be no surprise. The writers are Robert Lopez ("Avenue Q") and Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys responsible for "South Park." The trio had long had aspirations to do a musical on the Mormon church.
And, boy did they ever. It is a wildly funny, pointed, and even occasionally touching musical that swings its satirical sword in wide, frantic arcs while holding at its center a hilarious examination of belief and faith.
"Mormon's" initial San Francisco run last year was painfully brief, so its return engagement (it plays through Jan. 19) still feels like a theatrical event in the Bay Area.
It opens with a celestial curtain surrounded by a white-and-stained-glass false proscenium and topped by a golden statue of the Angel Moroni, a feature of major Mormon temples.
The curtain goes up, the music swells and, slowly, the stage is filled by guys in ties who gather on a riser for the tune, "Hello," which is essentially a practice session for Mormons to introduce themselves to the public.
They are simply well-dressed boys in ties, standing on the stoop, desiring only to give you a copy of "The Book of Mormon" and answer any questions you may have. The goal, of course, is to bring you into the church. That's why these kids, on the ubiquitous bicycles, are sent around the world in search of converts.
So, the boys, newly minted elders of the church, are excited to learn their assignments. And there are some plum assignments passed out, something eagerly anticipated by Elder Price (Nic Rouleau), who is nearly perfect in every way and anticipates being assigned to Orlando, a nearly perfect Florida.
On the other hand, there is Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes), who is not nearly perfect in any way.
Naturally, the two are teamed together. In Uganda. Specifically, a not-at-all-perfect little village about to be overrun by a warlord, whose name, for matters of taste, cannot be repeated here (played by David Aron Damane), which doesn't at all make the boys' dreams come true.
In the village, most of the men will be killed, the women will be mutilated, and the warlord will have another notch on his bandoleer's belt.
And on it goes from there, as the two lads join with a group of rather inept missionaries who must learn to deal with the villagers, having hardly a clue as to how to bring them into the Mormon church. The people living in the village have heard it all before from missionaries of various stripes, who deliver The Word then split when the going gets rough.
These elders promise to stay, with Elder Cunningham learning that delivering fraudulent lessons convinces the residents to convert. In fact, the missionaries convert so many people, church officials decide to visit the village and salute Elder Cunningham.
In turn, the new converts present the version of the Mormon church that has been presented to them, in what is a gentle homage to the "Little Cabin of Uncle Thomas" from "The King and I." It is a hilarious scene, as the Cunningham version of the church emerges with tales that include characters from "Star Trek" and "Star Wars," and dozens of other sci-fi characters.
This parody helps you understand what Lopez, Parker and Stone brought into this show. They seem to have developed a fondness for musical comedy from Disney animated films, for years the only outlet for frothy, flossy musicals. So amid the bawdy jokes about everything from cannibalism to politics to pop culture, "Mormon" takes its share of loving pokes at Broadway. And it works wonderfully.
And despite the off-color humor, "Mormon" is, of course, a big Broadway musical, delivered beautifully, with catchy songs, several engaging subplots and a set, by Scott Pask, that travels from Salt Lake City to Uganda. The show makes great use, in fact, of the well-decorated set pieces, which include some wonderful drops that occasionally become parodies in their own right.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'THE BOOK OF MORMON'
By Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez
Through: Jan. 19
Where: Orpheum Theatre, Hyde and Market streets,
Running time: 2 hours,
20 minutes, 1 intermission
Tickets: $60-$260 (subject to change), 888-746-1700 or www.shnsf.com