Thursday, August 11, 2011
Book of Mormon
But I don't want to say too much. I think I enjoyed the show so much in part because I went in almost blind. I knew the overall concept: two Mormon missionaries, one a golden boy goodie-two-shoes and one a hapless overweight loser, get sent to Uganda. During the Tony Awards, Amazon ran a special $2 promotion to download the soundtrack, but I waited to listen to it until after I'd seen the performance.
The show opens with a clever riff on the stereotypical doorbell-ringing missionary who appears unannounced on your stoop. All of the missionary trainees sing the perky, pat phrases they've been taught. "This book will change your life!" They are persuasive but not intrusive, persistent but not pushy. Then enters the n'er do well Elder Cunningham: HELLO! WOULD YOU LIKE TO CHANGE RELIGIONS? I HAVE A FREE BOOK WRITTEN BY JESUS!
It is almost inconceivable these days that anything lives up to the hype -- and $180 worth of hype over more than two months is a pretty tall challenge. But Book of Mormon definitely met my expectations. In part, I think it's because the outlandish approach really fits the format. Musicals are sort of innately over the top anyway, aren't they?
Nevertheless, this show gives new meaning to the cliche "pushing the envelope." Rape, bestiality, baptism, sodomy -- nothing's off limits. The ongoing joke about the disease festering in someone's genitals was actually pretty funny. But at the risk of sounding like a prude, one or two gags seemed like a bit much to moi. Then again, I've probably watched SouthPark all of three times (two of those were the "Ethiropian" Sally Struthers episode), so I'm not exactly a devotee of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's humor.
There are plenty of slapstick gags, but there are also some rather clever truths about the universal quest for a promised land, the first-world arrogance that we can easily "fix" things in the third-world, the way religious myths respond to a particular place and time, the speed with which we will believe in the incredible and rally behind a leader who's promising salvation. To those who would find the play offensive, I'd ask whether making fun of religion is the same thing as making fun of God. I don't believe it is.
More than a week later, I'm still thinking about some of what I saw and heard and wish I had more people with whom to discuss it. And I'm now huming along to the soundtrack (I've got the golden plates...). So, see it when you can, and let me know what you think!