Dee Discusses: The Book of Mormon

Posted: June 26, 2014 by Dee in Dee, General Media, Musicals
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Oh Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I think it’s fun that a lot of people wrote these two off because South Park is crass and animated, but they learned what smart satire the pair actually wrote. The South Park movie certainly drew some positive attention, but this play really shot them into the spotlight. I didn’t watch South Park much, the movie was my first experience with it, and I instantly fell in love with their off-putting sense of humor. Potty humor does not appeal to me, but everything else they do works exceptionally well for me. I could do an entire article about South Park itself, and maybe I will, for now this is about The Book of Mormon. They did a Mormon episode on South Park “All About Mormons,” which gained a lot of critical attention, and while they were writing Team America apparently this idea took hold. The Book of Mormon became an instant success, both from audiences who already know about the writing duo, and people who grew interested due to word of mouth. It took us forever to get tickets to the show because it was sold out everywhere it went. We went to the Boston Opera House for this too, and I had a blast. It won 9 Tony Awards and a Grammy Award, with the soundtrack up on the Billboard charts.  There are a few reasons I think this show did so well, but I’ll get to that later. It should be noted that this was co-written by Avenue Q genius Robert Lopez too. So talk about liquid gold. But what is The Book of Mormon about?

The Church of Latter-day Saints, of course. Otherwise known as Mormons. Elder Kevin Price is extremely excited when he’s finished his training and he’s ready to be assigned a missionary position, spreading the love of his faith. He’s handsome, charming, and has always been blessed by the church for being exactly the type of Mormon they want out there in the world. He wants to be assigned to Orlando, Florida, for some unknown reason, but instead he’s sent to Uganda with the least popular missionary Elder Arnold Cunningham. Cunningham is nerdy and likes to lie, usually embellishing truths and making up fantastical stories. Price is shaken by his assignment, but he decides that it’s because this is his path, and he has to do his very best. He is immediately brought crashing down to Earth when he arrives in Uganda and immediately gets robbed by the local Warlord  General Butt-Fucking Naked. The villagers explain that they are miserable, controlled by the General, and the majority of them have AIDs. There is famine, poverty, and the General is obsessed with female circumcision, wanting to force it on the village women. They meet their other Mormons who have already been there, and they are unfailingly cheerful despite the horrible living conditions. Why? Well they learned how to “turn it off.” Turn off their concerns (and personal baggage) in order to survive. Price is shaken at first, but after a pep talk from Cunningham, he decides to try harder to convert the villagers. This all goes wrong when the General shows up and kills a man right in front of him. Horrified, Price decides to abandon his post and go home immediately. Things look bad for the group since the elders at home are disappointed with their lack of progress.

In the village, a young woman named Nabulungi dreams of Salt Lake City and the wonderful place it must be compared to her world. She is terrified now that the General will arrive and force her into a circumcision. She looks for Price, but finds Cunningham instead, and he agrees to lecture the village. Unfortunately, he’s never read the Book of Mormon himself. So he just makes up stories, blending the parts of the book he remembers other people talking about with fiction like Star Wars. The village goes wild for it and all agree to convert. Price has a nightmare about him going to hell for abandoning his post, so he returns to the village. He’s surprised that Cunningham managed to convert the village and decides it’s his own fault for failing so massively, trying to convert the General himself with his “I Believe” song. Instead the General shoves the book up his ass. Literally. The elders decide to come to Uganda to see this incredible change for themselves, and the village put on a play about the Book of Mormon … but the bizarre version they all know that’s made up. They are rejected brutally by the church and they say the mission is over. Instead Price realizes the message they are trying to give is more important than the exact words, and he comes up with a plan to scare off the General from the village. And they are all converted to the church, coming full circle to the original first song “Hello” with all the villagers trying to convert more people.

The outrageous humor is what I think people love the most; the idea of laughing at something that is completely horrific. How can you laugh at it? Well, because it’s satire, and you can laugh at satire … right? You feel terrible as you giggle at the worst possible subjects. It’s clever writing, fantastic music, but I think what succeeds here is exactly what worked for the South Park episode. It’s a loving satire. They don’t hate Mormons, so as ridiculous as it may seem, there is an element where they respect the inherent faith and kindness of the church. The ideas might be presented as unrealistic and irrational, but the message that the villagers and faithful take from it is what matters. It mocks the church, but I think they have a strange type of respect toward it, or at least amused affection. It does have a sweet twist to it, and by the end of the play, it’s easy to have a big smile on your face. The acting was great in my production and I have no doubt it was in the original Broadway too. I can’t say I remember all the songs well, they didn’t stay with me in the way that Once or Wicked does, but it’s fun to listen to. I feel like the performances of many of these are better than just listening to the track on your own. There’s something about the “gee gosh!” attitude of the Mormons that you can hear, but it’s much better to see. It’s clever and tongue-in-cheek. And offensive. Very offensive. People who get offended easily won’t like it too much, and also do not in any way bring a child to this. It wouldn’t be rated R, it’d be NC-17 for the constant language and sexual suggestion. So no minors! Otherwise, enjoy. If you can ever get a ticket. It’s hard.

 

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