Yes, it's OK to laugh at 'Book of Mormon'

Emily Thompson

"The Book of Mormon," a notoriously hilarious and raunchy production showing at the Ohio Theatre from May 13 to 25, has received rave reviews alongside criticism for its satirical depiction of organized religion. But leading lady Alexanda Ncube, who plays Nabulungi, points out even though the show is edgy and over the top, audiences shouldn't take it too seriously. "The show is so fun and so well-rounded, the scenes and the songs are just so entertaining and it's such a fun experience," Ncube says. "[It] does start a conversation, which I think is important for any show." Here, we spotlight a few other controversial musical-theater productions, listed in order from mild to wild.

When "Rent" opened in the mid-'90s, it was controversial because of its themes addressing cultural taboos like drugs, homelessness and HIV/AIDS. That didn't stop the musical from becoming wildly successful, though, eventually leading to a 2005 movie adaptation.

Another timely and topical production, "Hair" made waves when it opened in 1968, taking on themes such as drugs, sexuality, race and the Vietnam War. Oh, and there's that scene at the end of the first act when all the cast members take off their clothes.

Deemed blasphemous by various religious groups, this rock opera depicting the last seven days of Jesus' life opened to picketers outside theaters in the early '70s. Although protests haven't been staged at recent productions, the musical was banned in Russia in 2012.

This spin-off musical stays true to the Monty Python brand of cheeky humor with plenty of puns and parodies, double entendres and fart jokes to go around. "Spamalot" takes it a step further with musical numbers like "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," which makes a lark of ethnic stereotypes.

Set in a seedy Berlin nightclub in 1931 against the backdrop of the Nazi rise to power, "Cabaret" was both scandalous and controversial when it opened to Broadway audiences in 1966. But when actor Alan Cumming first played the Master of Ceremonies in a 1993 London revival, he sexualized the character in a way his predecessors have not-the character traditionally donned a tuxedo and marionette makeup, while Cumming's gender-bending version (he's reprising it now in New York) wore little more than a bow tie and black lipstick.

Audiences never saw puppets the same way after "Avenue Q" presented "Sesame Street"-style puppets acting out adult themes-drinking, smoking, having sex and singing songs like "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and "The Internet is for Porn," which were co-written by Robert Lopez, who also happens to be a co-creator of "The Book of Mormon."

Written by the creators of "South Park," it's no surprise "The Book of Mormon"-a story about Mormon missionaries in Uganda-is hilariously absurd and vulgar. From a character named General Butt-[expletive] Naked, who has an extreme fear of female sex organs, to a song that translates to "[expletive] You, God," this satirical show takes it so far you can't help but laugh.