I came into an opportunity last night to do something I normally would avoid with all my might, which is to see a Broadway musical. A friend had tickets to go with his wife, but she fell ill, and I was called in to occupy her seat. The show was The Book of Mormon.
I typically find musicals fairly detestable pieces of nonsense. What little story there is, serves mainly as an excuse to sing a bunch of unoriginal songs. This makes it exactly like pornography, with singing and dancing in the place of sexual intercourse.
Scene: a suburban home. The doorbell rings; a woman answers door.
“I’m here to deliver this hot pizza.”
He looks her up and down. She blushes as she says: “Oh my, how embarrassing — you walked in just as I was making … jazz hands!”
“Baby, I know all about (he spreads his arms and his fingers) jazz hands.” (Music begins.)
No doubt there are solid reasons to enjoy the art form, such as the passionate love of cliched frippery, but I don’t. The last musical I saw in the theater, some years ago, was Flashdance. It was excruciating, and it ended (for unrelated reasons) with me breaking up with the girlfriend who got us tickets as a “fun surprise.”
So it was not without trepidation that I accepted the ticket — but I do not regret it.
If you didn’t know, The Book of Mormon is written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys who make South Park. So there’s no knowing what to expect.
It was amazing.
For a theater-hater like myself, that’s comparable to admitting gay thoughts. But it’s true. It tells a very original story, set in Uganda, of Mormon missionaries struggling to spread their gospel to the natives, who are indifferent to religious doctrine because of the daily horrors they must contend with.
And, because of who wrote it, it contains elements like the following:
- A song titled “We Are Africa,” performed by white men in white suits, that includes the line, “We are the tears of Nelson Mandela.”
- An extended depiction of baptism as an analog of sexual intercourse.
- The lines “I have maggots in my scrotum” and “I can’t believe Jesus called me a dick.”
- A villain named “General Buttfucking Naked.”
And there’s worse, much worse and much more shocking, that I don’t include here. Because focusing on the worst of the shock lines outside the context of the show would make it impossible to believe the truth of it all: The Book of Mormon is very sensitive to, and respectful of, its subject. The show is secular, to be sure, but it is not anti-Mormon. The missionaries are sympathetic, three-dimensional characters, and it is a bizarre perversion of Mormon doctrine that is ridiculed. And it’s not just me saying that; the Mormon Church bought several full-page advertisements in the playbill.
Besides all that, the show doesn’t give me the feeling I get from most musicals, the feeling that the story and the songs have been grafted together with Elmer’s Glue and construction staples. The music and the story are a unity from the start in this one. I don’t know what makes that possible, or why most shows completely fail to achieve it. But this one has it, and the story and songs really work together well.
So go see The Book of Mormon. Whether you’re for or against the Mormon faith, it won’t change your mind, nor does it want to (and for that, I am grateful). All it wants to do is tell a good story, and have a lot of fun in the process. And it succeeds.