Thursday, August 30, 2012
The Book of Mormon Musical: Hilarious, Touching, and Thought-Provoking
On Saturday, I finally saw the Book of Mormon Musical. I had been to New York City several times since its opening, but hadn't been successful in scoring tickets. The show was everything I was expecting and more. At once, it was hilarious, touching, and thought-provoking. I even teared up at points, which is something I normally don't do with the usual fare from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, which I still enjoy. The Book of Mormon Musical is the most brilliant thing that the duo have done to date, and the show was certainly worthy of all of its Tony wins.
The musical focuses on Elder Price and his presumptive sidekick, Elder Arnold Cunningham. Price obviously has a high opinion of himself. "You and Me (But Mostly Me)" is a song of brilliant self-regard, made even more hilarious as the curtain squeezes his new "best friend" Elder Cunningham off the stage. Elder Cunningham is socially inept and prone to embellishing. But as the more pious elder will plunge into doubt, the dunderhead will rise.
The show has am amazing variety of music. "Man Up" shouts out to the rock anthem. Elder Price's "I Believe" is reminiscent of "The Hills are Alive" from the "The Sound of Music." The "Baptize Me" duet sung by Elder Cunningham and the beautiful African girl Nabulungi is an amazing mix of religion and sexual tension -- things that I never thought could go together so well. "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" had me laughing so hard that I began to hyperventilate, especially when the Ugandan Warlord, Butt-F@cking Naked, stepped onto stage as the devil playing an electric guitar.
Catchy music make it easy to swallow more bitter observations of the lyrics, such as the profound song about repression, "Turn It Off," and the show's most in-your-face tune, "Hasa Diga Eebowai." The latter had me literally rolling in the aisle. I already knew what Hasa Diga Eebowai meant from the soundtrack, but the missionaries didn't (Elder Cunningham innocently asks "Does it mean 'No worries for the rest of your days?'") Soon the two elders are dancing and singing along with the starving, AIDS-infected Ugandans -- "F@ck You, God."
Parker and Stone have a unique understanding of how stories, both sacred and profane, work on us. They make numerous references to literature and popular culture, as well as other Broadway musicals, such as the Lion King. They even included iconic characters, such as Darth Vader from Star Wars and the hobbits from the Lord of the Rings, which worked surprisingly well.
For me, the highlight was the play that the Ugandans staged for the LDS mission president to demonstrate what they had learned from the missionaries. Due to Elder Cunningham's embellishment of the Book of Mormon with stories about AIDS, female circumcision, and other issues pertinent to the Ugandans, the play was at once both hilarious and tragic (The angel tells Joseph Smith: "Don't f@ck the baby to get rid of your AIDS, f@ck a frog"). I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. In the end, the fact that the Africans wisely knew that everything they were told was a metaphor (unlike the missionaries or even Nabulungi) and still found ways to make it useful in their lives was an amazing and thought-provoking twist reminiscent of the conclusion of the Southpark episode on Mormons. The Book of Mormon Musical celebrates, even as it lampoons, our human ache for stories — no matter how fantastical — that give meaning to life's misfortunes.
After the play, a woman sitting next to me remarked that my over-the-top laughter made the show for her. I told her I was a former Mormon missionary, and she couldn't believe that I had even gone to the show, let alone enjoyed it so much. Perhaps I am finally reaching the fifth stage of "grief" for one who has left their religion -- humor.