Some couples exchange jewelry or monogramed trinkets on their wedding day. My husband thought that the perfect wedding gift for ourselves was a pair of tickets to a musical! We bought our tickets for,The Book of Mormon, just before our wedding and bought an additional two for Dan's parents when we learned they would be visiting us. We were lucky to snag the last few tickets for them, as the show sold out fast!
I was a little unsure about seeing The Book of Mormon. In fact, I had zero desire to see it when it first hit Broadway. This is a huge statement, because I love theatre and I generally want to see every production. Hell, I even saw the musical adaptation of Bring it On. I'm a tough critic, but I'll see it all.
My paternal Grandparents were Mormon. I went to church with them frequently and I was even baptized into their faith, which was a bit of a scandal with the rest of my family who had baptized me Episcopalian as a baby. I'm not Mormon now or religious at all, but I was afraid that the musical might be mocking their faith or be mean spirited. I have little patience for religious intolerance whether it comes from those of a particular faith or those with no faith at all. For my grandparents, who I loved so much and for my many friends who are practicing Mormons, I was apprehensive that this show might be offensive.
I listened to the cast recording to get a better idea. The songs are catchy and often hilarious. In particular, I loved All American Prophet and Turn It Off. I still wasn't completely sold, but with all of the great reviews and awards, I decided to take a chance.
We saw it at the Historic Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. The theatre is gorgeous. I could just stare at the elaborate ceilings and feel like I've gotten my money's worth for the ticket price. It's small enough that there really isn't a bad seat in the house. We were in the front/middle of the mezzanine and had a perfect view.
The story follows two young men on their two year mission to Uganda. Elder Price is a golden boy, ready to take on the world and prove himself by making a difference. Price's mission partner is Elder Cunningham, a socially awkward man who has a colorful flair for making up stories. Cunningham is eager to become Price's friend and sidekick, hoping that a successful mission will make his parent's proud. When they arrive in Uganda, they quickly learn that bringing the locals into the Mormon faith will not be an easy task.
Yes, the show is often very crude. It's not for anyone who is put off by sexual content or pervasive swearing. It's from the creators of South Park, so this aspect of the show is not surprising. The crudeness usually wasn't without a purpose and often provided the biggest laughs of the show.
The show does a decent job at explaining some of the History of the Mormon's and their set of beliefs that set them apart from other Christian groups. You don't need prior knowledge of Mormonism to understand the show. It's done in a fairly lighthearted way which is mostly innocuous. I kept wondering if my grandparents had been sitting next to me, if they would have enjoyed the show. I think that they may have cringed at the language, but as artists themselves, I think that they would have praised the spirit of the show.
The show delivers solid moral lessons on friendship, faith and believing in yourself.
On faith, I was left with the take-away that having faith is a powerful and personal thing. All of the main characters are questioning their faith. The missionaries are questioning the faith they have had since childhood and the Ugandans are questioning this new faith that has been brought into their lives. The result is questioning faith leads to important growth and a deeper, more personal relationship with an individuals belief system and a sense of self. This is not an anti-mormon or anti-religion story, but one where the characters take a more active role in their faith.
In the second half of the show, Elder Cunningham is left on his own to bring the Africans into the church. The villagers are experiencing a major crisis and Cunningham uses his imagination to develop a ersatz version of Mormonism to help them. Until this moment, Cunningham has been a follower and has had very little faith in himself. When he is the only one left in charge, he rises to the occasion and shines.
At first, I thought that the portrayal of the African Villagers was offensive, almost showing them in need of rescuing by the white male missionaries. However, as the show continued, the villagers are shown as smart and capable. The mocking that is done regarding the villagers early on in the show, is on par with the mocking that is done to all of the characters. No one is safe in the show and that levels the playing field.
On a whole, I really enjoyed The Book of Mormon. It's probably the most genuinely funny musical that I have ever seen and it has a lot of heart. The touring cast had a ton of energy and it felt like we were there on an opening night, rather than one of hundreds of performances. The three lead actors (David Larsen, Cody Jamison Strand and Denee Benton) were fantastic and I'm sure that they will have long Broadway careers. If you are able to catch this production, I highly recommend it. I'm eager to see it again!