April 18, 2011

BROADWAY JOURNAL: “The Book of Mormon” and “The Mother____ With the Hat”

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Written by: Mitch Salem


As you see elsewhere on this page, ShowbuzzDaily isn’t just about movies.  And since, as it happens, Your Faithful Correspondent is in New York for the week, we’ll have a few days of thoughts about some of the hot new shows on Broadway.
For anyone who doesn’t already know, THE BOOK OF MORMON is the mega-hit of the season:  anyone planning a trip to New York in the next several months should order their tickets yesterday.  Happily, it deserves every bit of its success.  Written by the “South Park” team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez (co-writer of Avenue Q), it’s both completely outrageous and utterly lovable.  The show is about Mormon missionaries in Uganda, and particularly two of them:  Elder Price (Andrew Rannells), a whiz-kid who couldn’t be more certain he’ll convert all the natives to his cause, finds himself uneasily partnered with Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad), a misfit who’s given to bizarre lies when under pressure.  Their preconceptions of Africa are straight out of pop culture–hysterical parodies of The Lion King abound–and it’s part of the brilliant alchemy of the show that it manages to confront some of the ugly truths of that continent while remaining a bubbly, tuneful musical.  Mormon skewers religion in general, and Mormon in particular, with a surprisingly affectionate hand, because on some level religion is theatre (and Mormon is specifically American theatre), and the show is absolutely in love with theatre.  The music and lyrics are equal parts hummable and scabrous (there’s a parody-within-a-parody of The King and I‘s “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” that has to be seen to be believed), while making the audience keel over with laughter.  Gad and Rannels are so good that one can only wonder who will win in their inevitable face-off for the Best Musical Actor Tony; Nikki M. James, in the female lead, has no such problem.  The spectacular choreography is by Casey Nicholaw, who co-directed the show with Parker.  The Book of Mormon is bracingly, sometimes shockingly, enjoyable, and thoroughly impure entertainment.  (Eugene O’Neill Theatre)
Parental advisory:  All those with tender sensibilities should avert their eyes, because the actual title of the play

by Stephen Adly Guirgis is THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT.  Although the play doesn’t have any more profanity than Book of Mormon (which glories in its F-words), the sensibility is a lot tougher here.  Bobby Cannavale plays Jackie, a barely sober ex-con who discovers that his girlfriend Veronica has been dallying with said hat-wearing MF.  Guirgis details the volatile relationships among the two of them and Jackie’s AA sponsor Ralph D (Chris Rock), Ralph’s wife Victoria (Annabella Sciorra) and Jackie’s cousin Julio (Yul Vazquez).  Everyone is continually swearing their trustworthiness and devotion to the principles of recovery; no one is really who they claim to be.  The play doesn’t add up to much more, in the end, than a chain of serial betrayals and mutual addictions, but the dialogue crackles, and the cast is first-rate.  Cannavale (also terrific on screen these days in Win Win) and Rodriguez, especially, are human bullets, and Rock acquits himself well in an emotionally complicated part.  Anna D Shapiro directed, and the play rockets by in under 100 minutes with no intermission.  (Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre)


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."