Warning: "Hasa Diga Eebowai" Is Not The Same As "Hakuna Matata"
I have to say that I’m pretty damn proud of the theater-going audience of Charleston in general. While preparing to attend a performance of the Tony Award–winning musical The Book of Mormon on Wednesday night at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, I asked my friends on Facebook how many patrons would walk out before the end of the irreverent comedy. Some background for those that might not know, the show, which follows the trials of two Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda to try to convert the population of a remote village, is the brainchild of Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and Robert Lopez. Stone and Parker are the comedy masterminds behind the long-running animated TV series South Park, while Lopez co-wrote the music and lyrics to an earlier Broadway smash, Avenue Q. Given the ribald humor associated with the previous work from these guys, I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect. I certainly thought I did, at least.
I’m a huge fan of inappropriate humor. Parker and Stone’s 2004 movie Team America: World Police made me howl, and I’m convinced that the only way certain scenes in that movie made it to the screen while retaining an R-rating is due to the fact that marionette puppets did all the acting. There were so many scenes in that film that were wrong beyond words, and I loved them all. The same goes for their cinematic treatment of the TV show, 1999’s South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. Were it not for the fact that the characters in that film were basically paper cutouts, I doubt the MPAA would have allowed an R-rating. So going into The Book of Mormon, I was prepared for things to get rude, crude, and scatalogical. If only I’d had any idea just how much all three of those elements would come into play over the course of the evening.
I’m not going to give a synopsis of The Book of Mormon due to the fact that it will be playing through Sunday at the PAC, and the less you know about it going in, the more you’ll be delighted (or possibly horrified) at the antics of the cast. As far as the players went, David Larsen was great as the perfectionist Elder Price. Rob Colletti was absolutely outstanding as the slovenly, habitual liar Elder Cunningham. His laugh, somewhere between a shriek and a nervous howl, never failed to break up the audience. Also particularly good was Candace Quarrels, who played Nabulungi, the daughter of the village chief. Quarrels has a beautiful singing voice coupled with expert comic timing, and she worked well with Colletti. While I won’t go too in depth about the humor in The Book of Mormon, if you do catch any of the remaining shows this weekend, prepare yourself for blasphemy, plenty of profanity, and running jokes about AIDS, sex with inappropriate things, dysentery, and female genital mutilation. Yeah, I know it sounds awful. Some of you might be saying, “Is nothing sacred?” Oh yeah, I should probably throw in the fact that the Mormon religion is skewered relentlessly. Despite this though, the show ultimately has a great and positive underlying message, which becomes evident at the end. You just have to wade through the ridiculously offensive humor to get to it. I’m not complaining, believe me. I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Coming back to why I’m proud of local theatergoers, I was quite surprised at the lack of walkouts at Wednesday night’s show. I was sitting near the back of the orchestra section, and I didn’t notice anyone leaving during the first act. There was an empty seat of two after the intermission, but overall everyone stayed until the end. Leaving the PAC, it was amusing to hear the various comments from the audience members. I heard everything from “That was awesome!” to (in a shell-shocked voice) “What did I just see?” This being the Bible Belt and all, I was expecting some of the more elderly folks in the crowd to recoil in horror once they found out what “Hasa Diga Eebowai” meant (and believe me, it ain’t the same as “Hakuna Matata”), but everyone kept it together.
The Book of Mormon runs through Sunday at the North Charleston PAC. Tickets are available at the PAC box office or at Ticketmaster.com.