Westboro Baptist Church, Media Cleverly Torched in ‘God Hates Musicals’ (4.5 Stars)

‘God Hates Musicals’ – Book by Joe Creedon; Music by Bryan Dunn; Lyrics by Emily Laverdiere; Produced by Pablo Rojas and The Ministry of Theater at Theatre Lab 855, 855 Commonwealth Ave., Boston through 8/24

If you’ve ever wanted to see what “The Book of Mormon” would look like without the awesome Broadway production values, now’s your chance. Using minimal props and a cast of improv comedians on a sparsely decorated set, The Ministry of Theater’s production of “God Hates Musicals” packs a lot of laughs and some very clever songs into their two-hour sendup of the Westboro Baptist Church and their willing cohorts in the media.

If Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t ring a bell (and God knows I wish it didn’t), perhaps you know them by their alternative slogan to the Golden Rule, “God Hates Fags”. They’re an extreme fringe “church” (led by the Phelps family) with about 50 members straight out of a Jerry Springer taping. Their shtick is to protest soldiers funerals or similarly inappropriate events and locations with outrageous picket signs like “Fags Damn Nations” to inform America that God is not pleased with the gays or anyone who approves of them. For instance, they’ll be protesting Robin Williams funeral because they claim that through his film roles, Williams ‘made merchandise of filthy proud sin’. Sheesh. But like any pack of lunatics (like the Tea Party for instance), the media just loves them as they do any traveling freak show, and this production gives it as hard to the media as it does to the WBC.

The play opens with the bombastic number, “Hold Up Your Sign” which sets the tone for the wickedly ridiculous brand of humor that we’ll be seeing. The church is picketing Ben & Jerry’s for mixing flavors in a way that God would disapprove of apparently, and the local “Action News” team shows up, right on cue. But reporter Jonathan Chamblan (who, it turns out, is gay) isn’t happy because the loonies aren’t behaving crazily enough. The news team (whose slogan is “Why Be Informed When You Can Feel Informed?” much like Fox & Friends) needs a story, so with the help of one of the church members, they concoct a plan to “find a gay” in the church and do an expose that will get them out of Topeka, where Jonathan and his camera person Anna Speakerton (the wickedly funny Misch Whitaker) are currently stuck on the lowest rated news station.

They find what they’re looking for, in the person of David, a somewhat swishy family member who after having gone to college, begins to suspect that his family may not be interpreting the Bible correctly. As David, Brian Daley gives a solid performance as the confused (and only sane) member of the church, and he sings well. The overall score of this show is surprisingly good, with a number of very funny tunes and even a couple of pretty touching love songs between David and his new love. The band is very good as well, but it is sometimes difficult to hear some of the words to the songs and some of the very clever writing gets lost.

But this is a comedy first, and this is where the show shines, particularly if you’re a fan of the South Park/Family Guy school of irreverence. Dennis Hurley is a scream as Steve Drain, the only member of the church’s inner circle who is not a blood relative of Fred Phelps, the church’s founder. He is not only a fountain of unrestrained jealousy and manipulation, but also the butt of most of the best jokes in the show. Whitaker gives an over the top performance as the overly ambitious, often drunken, camera person, and Floyd Richardson is disturbingly intense as Fred Phelps. Chris Boyajian also does a nice comic turn as a hip Jesus.

The show has one segment, a “parody off” between Steve and one of the church’s girl members, that is a pretty funny sendup of classic Broadway show tunes (with church members changing the lyrics to include sophomoric gay bashing in the numbers). There are some little plot holes in the show (like most musical comedies) and I didn’t understand the whole Jewish subplot, but overall, this is a great take, especially if you like in-your-face comedy. For more info, go to: www.godhatesmusicals.org