The Book of Mormon
Bank of America Theater
It’s been a rough couple years for Mormonism. There was the tough defeat that Romney suffered in the Presidential election, the almost incomprehensible hoax that devout Mormon/star linebacker Manti Te’o fell for with his fake girlfriend Lennay Kekua, but probably most damaging, is the ongoing production of The Book of Mormon, a musical that quite frankly rips the religion a new one even if the musical has been promoted as strangely uplifting.
That being said, much praise has been heaped upon the South Park creators’ religious satire musical. Going into the musical last week, I wondered whether it would live up to its billing and also was curious how similar it would be to South Park, a show in its 15th season known for its highly offensive nature but razor-sharp satire on the topics of the day. What I came out of the theater with was the answer was yes on both accounts: The Book of Mormon is the most clever and hilarious musical I have ever seen (though I haven’t seen a ton) and the musical succeeds for the same reasons South Park succeeds.
Let me start the specifics of the show with one major disclaimer: if you are easily offended or even able to be offended, you will be in this show. Mormon or not, the musical has scenes and numbers that would offend people of any faith and maybe even people in general. A great example of this is when the Mormon missionaries first arrive in Uganda, the only thing the missionaries know of Africa is The Lion King. Thus, the Ugandans break out into a musical number called “Hasa Diga Eebowai” similar to “Hakuna Matata” but instead of meaning “no worries for the rest of your days”, the phrase means “f**k you god” which is the people’s response to the hunger, aids, and rape that have plagued their village. This serves a purpose in the musical as it shows that the naïve missionaries are running into people who have experienced life and see life from the complete opposite spectrum resolving in huge shock for the young missionaries. Not all the shock serves a purpose though, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone do exactly what they with South Park: mask some of the smartest satire around with 8th grade potty and sex humor.
Offensiveness aside, The Book of Mormon is a riotously funny musical, and the core of what makes it great is the songs. It is remarkable how catchy, unique, and brilliant the music is in The Book of Mormon, which you would think Stone and Parker were 30-year Broadway veterans based on their musical savvy and knowledge of musicals past. Not only does the musical parody religion, but it parodies musicals: from Annie (an “Orlando” reprise instead of “Tomorrow”), Wicked (“You and Me (But Mostly Me)” parodying “Defying Gravity”), The King and I (“Joseph Smith American Moses” parodying “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”), and the aforementioned Lion King parody. The music also stretches a huge array of genres, from the prairie-side disco “All-American Prophet”, to the angsty-rocking homo-eroticism of “Man Up”, to the classic Disney ballad of “Sal Tlay Ka Siti”. Not to mention the songs deliver some really clever commentary on unhealthy religious behavior from “Turn It Off” which points to hiding away and not confronting the horrible things in this life, to “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” which shows Elder Price, the main protagonist, as not wanting to do the Lord’s work as a team, but piously wanting to just glorify himself. From the opening of the chimy “Hello” to the finale of “Tomorrow Is A Latter Day”, the music is as catchy and memorable as it gets. The songs have just been rotating in my head since.
As for the characters, the two leads Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, played in the Chicago version by Nic Rouleau and Ben Platt (Pitch Perfect) respectively, were pretty spot on with their parts, but I still couldn’t help but long to have seen the original two actors, Andrew Rannells (The New Normal, Girls) and Josh Gadd (1600 Penn) play the parts. The rest of the cast and characters were more than capable for their roles, with the roles of Elder McKinley and Nabulungi (who was miscalled by Elder Cunningham everything from Nala to Hock-a-loogie to Neosporin) being the two most enjoyable supporting roles for me.
All in all, for those that love musicals, satire, or South Park and can take some offensive content, The Book of Mormon is a must. Trey Parker and Matt Stone continue to disguise the fact that they are some of the smartest comedic voices around today.
Can’t Miss: “Hello!”, “All-American Prophet”, “Man Up”, “Turn It Off”, “I Am Africa”
Can’t Hit: “Joseph Smith American Moses” (for unnecessarily offensiveness)