An Excerpt from American Savage and a Message All Straight People Need to Hear
Full disclosure: I'm not what you would call an "expert" when it comes to Broadway musicals. What I am (marginally) more of an expert on is (A) what it's like to spend the first 18 years of one's life as seemingly the only non-Mormon in the entirety of Salt Lake City, and (B) South Park. Which means hooray! I'm the target audience for The Book of Mormon! Sort of! Anyway, I went to the touring production of The Book of Mormon last night—it's in town at the Keller Auditorium through Sunday, and if you have tickets, there's about a 90 percent chance you'll be murdered for them as you walk up to the theater—and here's the short version of my review:
There's a longer version after the jump!
Created by South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q's Robert Lopez, The Book of Mormon has won every award ever invented and is probably the most hyped musical since... I dunno. Avenue Q? No, more than Avenue Q. The story follows two eager, naive Mormon missionaries, Elder Price (Mark Evans) and Elder Cunningham (Chris O'Neill), who are whisked from their safe, pristine streets of Salt Lake City and dumped in a tiny Ugandan village. At first, Price and Cunningham are convinced they'll be baptizing Ugandans left and right—their sheltered, idealized conception of Africa is based almost entirely on The Lion King—but they soon realize that Uganda is a place where women are circumcised, warlords shoot people in the face, and maggots grow in men's scrotums.
The Book of Mormon isn't without fault—I know some people feel like it's a little too long (it clocks in at two-and-a-half hours, including a 15-minute intermission), and it's safe to say that things don't really get rolling until the second act—but honestly, lodging any real complaint about something this smart and this fun feels forced and shallow. That's because just about everything in it works, and works really, really well: the music and lyrics are fantastic, the performances (at least the ones I saw last night) are across-the-board great, and the whole enterprise deftly balances on the narrow edge that Parker and Stone find in their best and funniest episodes of South Park: Easy but charmingly earnest gags (the aforementioned warlord is named "General Buttfucking Naked") interspersed with brilliant jolts of remarkable cleverness and razor-sharp commentary. The Book of Mormon pokes a lot of fun at Mormonism, but it never feels mean-spirited or hateful—instead of being an easy hit piece on the wacky beliefs of those wacky latter-day saints, The Book of Mormon has fun with Mormonism's most ridiculous tenets, but is more concerned with bigger subjects like the nature of religion, racism, privilege, and scrotum maggots. Naturally, these subjects are handled through the power of song.
[HILARIOUS VIDEOS REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF BOOK OF MORMON. :( ]
Plus, bonus! The programs for The Book of Mormon are front-loaded with Mormon ad buys featuring a carefully curated lineup of multicultural models encouraging you to pick up the actual Book of Mormon—like the recently launched mormonsandgays.org, they serve as a reminder that yes, Mormons totally know what everybody else is saying about them. Unlike mormonsandgays.org, though—the ugly message of which boils down to "We totally accept you gay people, just as long you don't actually do anything gay"—these ads are funny. Not only have they somehow convinced people who aren't white to be in them, but there's also a pretty fantastic line about how "the book is always better."
The entire Portland run of The Book of Mormon is sold out (and has been since the exact second tickets went on sale), and scalped tickets are going for a lot—but hey, at least there's a ticket lottery. Give it a shot—god knows when you'll get a chance to see the show around here again, and if you can manage to score tickets using either luck or ludicrous amounts of money, The Book of Mormon is very, very much worth seeing.
SEMI-RELATED POST-SCRIPT: Six Days to Air: The Making of South Park, a documentary directed by Portland's Arthur Bradford, is currently on Netflix Instant, and is also worth seeing: Picking up right after Parker and Stone's blitz of premiering The Book of Mormon, it shows the insane process of how the duo and their staff frantically slap together an episode of South Park in a matter of days.
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