June 12 2014 12:00 AM

REVIEW: “The Book of Mormon” at Wharton will hurt your face

\"Book of Mormon\" plays through Sunday at Wharton Center. Courtesy photo.

THURSDAY, June 12 — Since Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the nation’s preeminent pop culture provocateurs, arrived on the scene in 1997 with their naughty animated TV show “South Park,” they’ve left an ever-expanding wake of outrage in their skewerings of politics, religion, sexuality — you name it.

So it should be no surprise that their musical, “The Book of Mormon” — playing at Wharton Center through Sunday — is about as offensive as entertainment gets. It’s like eating really spicy food — you kinda like the burn, even if it’s making you a little uncomfortable. Either way, “Mormon” will hurt your face, either from the permanent smile from laughing so hard or from biting your tongue.

Stone and Parker teamed up with Robert Lopez, one of the guiding forces behind the raunchy musical puppet show “Avenue Q,” to take aim at Mormonism, “the world’s fastest growing religion.” The language is blue, the songs are catchy and the subject matter is decidedly risqu. Where else can you hear two characters sing about an impending baptism (“Baptize Me”) as though they’re about to get funky in the river?

"Hasa Diga Eebowai" is a bouncy ditty, in the vein of “Hakuna Matata,” but with a NSFW sacrilegious translation that will have you looking out for lightning bolts if you say it out loud. In "Sal Tlay Ka Siti," young Ugandan Nabulingi (Alexandra Ncube) sings a tender prayer for a better life in the titular paradise (get it?). The highlight of the show, however, was “Joseph Smith American Moses,” a musical-within-a-musical about the Ugandans stupefyingly skewed interpretation of the Book of Mormon, complete with having sex with frogs and elements of “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” thrown in for good measure.

The story follows two teenaged Mormon missionaries, Price and Cunningham, who get shipped off to Uganda to convert a village plagued by warlords, AIDS, famine and drought. One of the villagers repeatedly complains about maggots in his scrotum. Hope you didn’t have rice for dinner!

Price and Cunningham struggle with the poor conditions and self-doubt, as the audience learns the sci fi-ish backstory to the Mormon religion through song and dance. Also Jesus calls someone a dick. It’s par for the course from the “South Park” duo, who once portrayed a Jesus/Santa fight to the death.

But then why does “Book of Mormon” feel so uninspired? It’s great fun watching a major religion torn to shreds, but this is low-hanging fruit. Stone and Parker are to pop culture what Jon Stewart’s writing team is to politics: Masterminds of analytical deconstruction with the gift for not simply pointing out that the emperor’s strutting around naked, but commenting on the size of his junk. It seems too easy for them. Perhaps growing up that close to Utah gives you a particular distaste for Latter Day Saints.

The remaining “Mormon” shows are nearly all sold out, but Wharton has instituted a pre-show lottery two-and-a-half hours before each performance. People can put their name in for up to two tickets for $25

“The Book of Mormon”

Wharton Center Cobb Great Hall

7:30 tonight; 8 p.m. Friday, June 13-Saturday, June 14; 2 p.m. Saturday, June 14; 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday, June 15

$38-$150 (all evening shows sold out, single seats only for in place, pre-show lottery two-and-a-half hours before each show)

(800) WHARTON, whartoncenter.com