Is The Book of Mormon the funniest musical ever? Well, I've only been attending musicals for the past 33 years, so I can only speak from that experience. But I will say it's one of the most uproariously enjoyable shows I've ever seen, and certainly the most fun I've had in the theater since The Drowsy Chaperone.
Is The Book of Mormon better than Spamalot? No contest. Spamalot had its share of belly laughs, but it was rather lacking in the music and lyric departments.
Is The Book of Mormon better than The Producers? I genuinely think so. The Producers was fun, but somehow I got the feeling that other people were enjoying it a lot more than I was.
So, comparisons and superlatives aside, what makes The Book of Mormon so good? Well, you gotta start with the "South Park" pedigree. Few people in modern times could match Trey Parker and Matt Stone in both comedic and pop-cultural impact. But then you add in Robert Lopez, one of the award-winning creators of Avenue Q, a show that only seems to get better with age and repeat viewings. (Parker, Stone, and Lopez share the credit here for the book, lyrics, and music to The Book of Mormon.) And then, on top of that, you have co-director (with Parker) and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, himself no slouch when it comes to both comedy and lively staging. (See Spamalot and The Drowsy Chaperone above.)
Bringing in Lopez and Nicholaw may be the smartest thing Parker and Stone ever did. The duo have always had a raw sense of comedic bravado and a preternatural ability to shock, but their forays into musical theater have been spotty from a strictly qualitative perspective. Their first joint effort, Cannibal! The Musical, is a sporadically amusing curiosity at best. Their feature-length film "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut" is sheer comedic genius, but the songs themselves are unsophisticated, albeit hysterical. The Book of Mormon gives us the best of both worlds: the manic, untamed "South Park" sensibility married to the melodic, lyrical, and theatrical polish of Lopez and Nicholaw.
It would be a shame to tip you off to any of the comedic set-pieces from the show, but I will say that Parker, Stone, and Lopez have a grand old time poking affectionate fun at everything from Disney to Rodgers and Hammerstein, and making barbed, topical references as diverse as repressed homosexuals, African warlords, HIV/AIDS, and female circumcision.
How does all that fit together into a cohesive show? Well, somehow the creators make it all work, and handily so. They are ably abetted by a top-notch cast of Broadway no-names, many of whom are unlikely to remain anonymous for long. Chief among these crack performers are Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad as a mismatched pair of Mormon missionaries who set out for Africa to spread the (arguably) good word.
Is The Book of Mormon offensive? Hell, yes, and thank the Angel Moroni for that. This may just be the most verbally profane musical ever to tread the Broadway boards. Make no mistake: the language in this show is beyond obscene. And I can't imagine that the folks at the Church of Latter Day Saints will be all that flattered at the way their religion is portrayed here. But, beyond the LDS skewering, the show is actually fairly respectful to people of faith. Much in the same way that the "South Park" movie had some surprisingly moral underpinnings, so too does The Book of Mormon have its own subversively wholesome message, for anyone broad-minded enough to listen.