"Will I like this show?"
A critic is often asked that question — by total strangers, no less — as if it's possible to know the precise taste of any theatergoer.
With "The Book of Mormon," the touring Broadway hit that opens Tuesday, Oct. 29, in Orlando, the question is expanded: "Will I like this show — or will it be too violent-profane-rude-insulting-embarrassing for me?"
That's because the story of two naïve missionaries who have their eyes opened in impoverished Africa is worlds away from such mild-mannered fare as "The Music Man."
Let's face it: "Mormon" co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren't exactly Rodgers & Hammerstein. The third co-creator, Robert Lopez, was a lyricist for Broadway's "Avenue Q," an adult puppet show far removed from "Sesame Street."
Best known for creating TV's "South Park," Parker and Stone are famed for their no-holds-barred, equal-offender-of-all style. And that's definitely true in "Book of Mormon."
Not that its crude elements have kept theatergoers away: The Tony-winning show has smashed box-office records at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill theater, where tickets can go for hundreds of dollars.
And most critics have said the musical's heart and humor ultimately outweigh its vulgarity.
"Exceedingly naughty, though in the end disarmingly nice," pronounced Los Angeles Times critic Charles McNulty.
But you don't care about critics, do you, gentle reader? You want to know: Will I like it?
Here's some guidance to let you draw your own conclusions. If you already know you're broadminded, you might want to bail on reading now, though I will keep my descriptions as spoiler-free as possible.
But if you're on the fence about going — and there are still tickets left, plus a daily ticket lottery during the show's run — read on.
Will the swearing hurt my tender ears?
Well, h-e-double-hockey sticks, yes — although the word that childhood phrase represents is used more in its religious sense than as a curse word.
That may be because Parker, Stone and Lopez went right for the big guys of swearing, the ones that in an earlier age would leave a naughty child with a mouth full of soap.
A charming Disney-esque ballad ends with a potty-mouth sentiment.
An extremely vulgar term for female anatomy is tossed around with impunity — when watching the show in New York with my mother, I was blushing in the dark.
But it's the F-word that rules the day: Used dozens of times throughout the show, it's even directed at the Almighty himself in what is surely a first for musical theater.
Note that the Mormon characters don't swear — except for one well-placed F-bomb. But by then, your ears may have shut down in self-defense.
Will I see nudity or sex?
There's no actual sex during the show — but one musical number is an extended exercise in sexual innuendo. A baptism is presented as if a nervous couple are preparing for their first sexual experience. (It's funnier than it sounds on paper.)
Another song centers on a closeted gay missionary — but nothing indicates he has acted on his urges. In fact, just the opposite would seem to be the case. That number does feature tap dancing and sequins, though, if you're overly sensitive to stereotypes.
Of course, if you're overly sensitive to stereotypes, your head will have exploded by the time our gay Mormon kicks up his heels.
What if I'm a little squeamish about medical matters?
Uh-oh. If the thought of a hangnail makes you feel woozy, you could have trouble sitting through "Book of Mormon."
The threat of female circumcision is a major plot point throughout the show. Female circumcision is a custom in which a girl's clitoris is mutilated. If just reading that sentence made you squirm uncomfortably, imagine sitting in a theater while people sing about it.
The men don't get off lightly, either.
One character repeatedly tells the audience about a condition in a particularly sensitive part of the male anatomy. It involves maggots. Yes, maggots.
And then there's the character who has a book shoved right up his… I shudder to think about it.
How blasphemous does it get?
This is a good time to pose the question that has puzzled philosophers since they first beheld the duck-billed platypus: Does God have a sense of humor?
There's no denying that some of the tenets of Mormonism are mocked. But the show makes clear by its end that the Mormons are representing all faiths, so any religious person could feel offended.
Yet, the ultimate message of the show is that despite its idiosyncrasies, organized religion has the ability to do a lot of good for the world — a sentiment with which many would agree.
Then again, there's that whole "cursing at God" song mentioned above.
The show's publicity says "The Book of Mormon" is "God's favorite musical." Could it be accurate? I guess we won't know for sure until Judgment Day.
'The Book of Mormon'
• What: Broadway touring musical comedy
• When: Opens Tuesday, Oct. 29; 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 10
• Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 411 W. Livingston St., Orlando
• Tickets: $45-$150
• Call: 407-246-4262
• Online: OrlandoBroadway.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun