There are raves ... and there are the rarefied words that are being bandied about to praise the new Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," written by University of Colorado graduates Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

Cynics predicted New York critics might be falling all over themselves to celebrate the first major musical to open since the "Spider-Man" debacle began dominating theater headlines last year -- if only to bury the dagger deeper into the most expensive musical in Broadway history.

Others thought the creators of "South Park" might face backlash their irreverence toward the Mormon church, which has instead issued a statement calling their musical "surprisingly sweet."

Theater, like faith, works in mysterious ways.

"The Book of Mormon," which opened on Thursday night, is getting the best reviews of any new musical since "The Producers" in 2001. The lead from Ben Brantley's New York Times review led to sarcastic speculation that perhaps one of the Big Apple's most acidic reviewers has been kidnapped, and his byline assumed by a plant:

"This is to all the doubters and deniers out there, the ones who say that heaven on Broadway does not exist, that it's only some myth our ancestors dreamed up. I am here to report that a newborn, old-fashioned, pleasure-giving musical has arrived at the Eugene O'Neill Theater, the kind our grandparents told us left them walking on air if not on water. So hie thee hence, nonbelievers (and believers too), to 'The Book of Mormon,' and feast upon its sweetness."


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Brantley went on to say the musical, co-written by Robert Lopez of "Avenue Q," has "a heart as pure as that of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show."

So "The BOM" is the b-o-m-b of the theater world. The good kind.

It's a coming-of-age story about two mismatched Salt Lake City boys who are sent on a mission to a remote Ugandan village. There, they encounter poverty, war, AIDS -- and "find their feet, affirm their values and learn as much as they teach," Brantley wrote.

Stone predicted last week his musical will not only offend Mormons "It will offend everyone." But for how it both satirizes and embraces its subjects, Brantley wrote, " 'The Book of Mormon' achieves something like a miracle."

Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "For all its irreverence -- and there's enough off-color insouciance to offend church ladies of every denomination, 'The Book of Mormon' has the old-fashioned musical comedy heart of adults who spent much of their adolescence lip-syncing to original cast albums in their finished basements."