Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Book of Mormon: A Very Meta Review

(Somehow I don't see getting through this review without using a smattering of curse words...well the C word won't be used; that I'll guarantee.  Still, Mom and "you know who you ares," best to consider forgiving, forgetting in advance and move on to your Tea Party Gazette post haste.

(If you have plans to see The Book of Mormon, you may want to skip this Goodness First least until you have seen it...then read it twice :)

An HIV Innoculation, Book of Mormon Style
Okay, enough preamble. I recently saw The Book of Mormon (TBoM) at the Forrest Theater with a few friends this past weekend.  For those of you who are unfamiliar and have chosen to read this anyway in spite of my disclaimers, TBoM is the successful, irreverent, Tony-award winning musical created by the South Park duo, Tray Parker and Matt Stone.  The basic premise of TBoM has two Mormon elders, both teens freshly indoctrinated to save the world, being sent to Uganda to save the pagan people there with the Book of Mormon's particular vision of Christ.

My expectations going into this performance were rather in line with catching a live South Park episode (there actually is one on Mormonism) that pokes fun at religion through song and dance.   In fact, I expected something akin to Spamalot!, the Monty Python spoof inspired musical which rehashed much of the troupe's skit-based antics for fan benefit.  Now, I verily enjoyed Spamalot!, alas I also found it personally like watching Flying Circus reruns in 3D with the sound turned up to eleven.  TBoM, on the other hand, was creatively original through and through, yes delivering irreverent humor in spades, but also creating a well crafted story arc and many amazing moments that knocked my socks off.

To be sure, the production wasn't perfect, which might be expected since this was a cloned performance from New York...kind of like getting a Philly pretzel when you were expecting a New York sourdough bagel; your taste buds do still end up fairly happy, in spite of the bait and switch.  There were no celebrity headliners, which in itself is a little disappointing, and still the stupid insert sheet in my program indicated several understudies were standing in at this particular show.  This tacky behavior seems to be prevalent across Broadway and it always leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth;  I mean, when you pay over a hundred bucks for your mezzanine seat, you kinda expect the first run performers to be on stage.  And sure enough, as the opening numbers unfurled I found myself sneering a bit at the fact that some of the cast was obviously lip-syncing the songs like too many Caribbean cruise musicals I've had the misfortune of suffering through.

Nevertheless, I got past my nit-picking rather quickly.  The tapestry of the story integrated plot threads, stage magic and the musical and dance performance medium amazingly well.  Oh, did I mention South Parkian irreverence; well this show implemented said irreverence to the MAX!  Which normally is more than fine with me, yet I even wondered if they went too far once I saw the dazzling, Lion King inspired, African rhythmic number "Hasa Diga Eebowai."  The primal rhythms transported me into a childlike "Hakuna Matata" vision of African culture, that is until, the visiting Mormon elders on stage discovered the English translation equated to "Fuck You God."  Need I say more, this musical wasn't pulling punches; it was sucker punching its audience for added effect.

As I noted, normally I wouldn't think twice when it comes to such a display of religious irreverence.  Laughing at the everyday religious beliefs kind of comes with the territory when you've come to the conclusion all the gods and goddesses out there are lies that have survived like a hangover after a few too many drinks the night before.  This time around I actually felt rather sensitive to what believers in the audience might be feeling at the religious effrontery to Mr. Monotheism himself.  I became very aware of the demographic of the audience, which was pretty much the same as any mainstream play: a shuffling of middle class suburbia of all ages, with a triple handful of "blue hairs" on top.  And perhaps it was this elder generation present, the couples that could have been my parents in addition to the presence of a friend of mine I felt found the content more offensive than expected, which added to my own discomfort.  Then, I thought, WOW, I actually have a streak of empathy in me, intellectualized empathy, but empathy nonetheless.

After the first act, I expected about twenty percent of the audience to abandon the show.  I had a premonition it would be like the time I saw Pulp Fiction with a buddy of mine and halfway through he walked out of the theater saying this is just wrong, I'll meet you later. Now if that had been a date, I might have followed, but I had forked over good money to see the movie, so I grudgingly sat through the rest, not entirely enjoying myself at least in part because I felt my friend had abandoned me, but also wondering if I had slighted him by staying put. (Pulp Fiction imho does take a second viewing and a bit of film history hindsight to appreciate fully).

TBoM was not to be a repeat of this abandonment circumstance; every seat was filled for Act II, and though it's possible the high ticket price was the force that kept the audience in their seats, I was overwhelmed as the audience reaction to the irreverent humor continued to rise to an ever higher crescendo.  During these cavalcades of laughter and applause there were moments when I felt like I had found my church of irreligion; the multitudes around me understood that religion was all a ruse, and that we were laughing in epiphany at society and ourselves for being fooled in the first place.

Oh wait, I promised you SPOILERS and EXPLETIVES.  Suffice it to say The Book of Mormon features numerous choreographies of Mormons with their white shirts and black ties, a neon-lit Jesus spouting eloquent insults, a visit to hell complete with a Satan inspired ballad, messianic frog-fucking on-stage to cure AIDS, and even super-sized black balloon cocks (errr, I meant the other C-word, Mom) wielded with orgiastic aplomb to celebrate the Mormon faith.

Importantly, the performance does end with a signature South Park hidden agenda moral, one that pokes unabashedly at being anti-religious.  Alas, if you thrive on modern, no holds barred satire then you should catch this fantastic musical and discover TBoM's spurt-in-your-face nuance for yourself.

Amen. (Awomen too!)

[what does this post have to do with Goodness First?  Laughing at ridiculous ideas for one!  And generally accepting those who (peacefully) hold ridiculous ideas for two.  Life's a hey, we are in it together...let's bring a little laughter and a few effin' hugs along the way!!!]

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