Okay, so this is mainly a blog about cartomancy. I have other interests, too, one of which is theater. Most follows Sturgeon’s Law, which states 90% of everything is crap. This isn’t.
BOOK OF MORMON. OH. MY. GOD.
I laughed my ass off for two and a half hours. ‘Nuf said. No, seriously, it was absolutely hilarious. It was also surreal as hell.
Traffic was a nightmare because of the ASU game. It was a bitch to get into Gammage’s parking lot. Once I did, I found a nice close space. That parking lot’s tiny anyhow, so unless you plan on arriving at least 90 minutes or so early like I did, expect to park in the structure along McAllister. Just FYI.
So I parked and thought fuck, it’s cold out here! And we got lightning and rain earlier tonight, too! Fortunately it was *after* everyone was getting settled in.
So I sat in the outer lobby and got my ass kicked on Front Mission (DS) until they unlocked the doors and let everyone in. I must be a recognizable face around there. The usher who scanned my ticket was all, ‘You know where you’re going because I’ve seen you here a million times. Enjoy the show!’ Umm, last time I was there was in June for Phantom and then before it was November 2013 for Lion King, but hey, whatever. I *do* know my way around the building though, but I’m rusty.
As soon as we were let in, I made a beeline for the merch booth as always. I like to get whatever I want right out of the starting gate so I get first dibs as well as not needing to wait in a God-awful line. I just got the souvenir brochure which is the one item I ALWAYS get from any show if it’s available. The rest of the stuff I can find elsewhere. It was only $20, and that’s standard. They wanted $20 for the CD, which wasn’t bad, but Amazon wants $14 and I’ll just toss it in the cart next time if I want it. The sheet music went for $30, I can find it for about $15 online, or if I’m patient, wait for it to show up used at Bookman’s for under $10. *shrug* But theater merch is almost always overpriced and I’m used to it. The souvenir brochures, though, aren’t usually available EXCEPT at the show or for overly inflated collector’s prices on places like Ebay. No.
It was a good thing I got it, too, as the standard playbill had no song listings. Good luck finding out who sung what unless one had the souvenir brochure or previous familiarity with the show. I’d seen most of this on YouTube but there was still quite a bit that was new to me, so I was still a BoM n00b. I am a n00b no longer.
My seat was better than I thought it would be. I was on the Grand Tier (1st balcony), Row 2, seat 44, which is about a 30 degree angle from dead center. I could see and hear everything with crystal clarity. I couldn’t control the horizontal or vertical, though. (+1 if you get the reference) Anyway, it was something like middle of the road pricing. I wasn’t happy that one seat cost $112, but it was an early birthday gift and so for that I was happy. The most expensive ones were punching $200. HAAHAH FUCK NO.
So the show starts out with a brief history of Mormonism, starting with the two tribes of Israelites that supposedly struck out and settled North America. Never mind that neither the archaeological or DNA evidence bears that out, but hey, it’s what they believe. So Joseph Smith apparently digs up these golden plates buried in upstate NY 2000 years ago by the angel Moroni, translates them, doesn’t let anyone else see them, publishes them, and BAM a new splinter sect of Christianity is born. Honestly, Joseph Smith was a notorious con artist as well as a ceremonial magician. I don’t doubt the accounts that he saw an angel or spirit who pointed at a spot in the woods and told him to dig up *something.* This is as old as humanity. Maybe they were solid gold engraved plates. Maybe they were pretty chunks of pyrite, which IIRC is common around there. Maybe he ate too much contaminated bread and hallucinated the whole damned thing. There’s no way to tell. What he sold, however, and people are still buying hook, line, and sinker, is a scam story with one hell of a bottle of snake oil included. But I digress.
After the opening history, we start out with our new recruits about to set on their missions (“Hello!”) at the training center in Salt Lake City. Then each piece of fresh meat–I mean Elder–is assigned to their partners for their missions over the next two years (“TWo By Two”). This is a catchy little number that frankly reminded me of being awarded prizes on game shows. It’s also where we meet our two main characters, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. We also discover that Elder Price is an egotistical bastard who is following the letter of the law, if not the spirit, and is disappointed as hell he can’t go to Orlando and enjoy all the theme parks instead of preaching Mormon doctrine (“You and Me (But Mostly Me)”) Additionally during this number, it becomes clear that Elder Cunningham is a pathological liar and maybe batshit crazy to boot. This plays into the plot in a big way later. Then they say goodbyes at the airport along with a very funny and wrong Lion King parody, and off to Africa they go.
So they lose their luggage and get guns pointed in their faces by the local warlord, General Butt-Fucking Naked. The local villagers point out this is just the way things are around there and blaspheming is how they deal with the hardships in their lives (‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’) and the General’s strange obsession with female circumcision. Price and Cunningham are appalled by all this, and then discover there are other missionaries in the area. The local Mormon leader, McKinley, says that Mormons should be able to simply ‘turn off’ any negative feelings, including McKinley’s own repressed homosexuality (“Turn It Off”) This is an absolutely hilarious over-the-top dance number that ends with everyone in glitter fuschia vests and glitter blue ties. Don’t ask. It’s wrong. And I laughed until I was choking. Price, in the meantime, is beyond confused by all this but Cunningham assures him they’ll succeed in bringing souls into the fold (“I Am Here For You”)
So Price attempts to preach to the natives and just winds up boring them half to death. Unfortunately, his attempts to teach the villagers about Joseph Smith winds up being self-aggrandizing in the extreme (“All American Prophet”) and the villagers declaring religion useless and Price arrogant and extremely irritating. There’s quite a bit of reverse racist humor here. These idiot white Americans wind up in rural Africa without a clue as to how things really are there, and the natives school the newcomers severely. This is especially obvious here. Then theGeneral shows up, demands the circumcision of all women in the village, and shoots a villager in the face when he protests right in front of Cunningham and Price and covering Price in blood. Nabulungi, the village leader’s daughter, hides at home and dreams of an earthly paradise inspired by Price’s description of Salt Lake City (“Sal Tlay Ka Siti”).
The next morning at mission HQ, McKinley panics after getting a message requesting a full progress report on their mission. This gets worse after he realizes that Price and Cunningham have been spectacularly unsuccessful. Price wants to bail and gtfo out of there as he’s mortified by the conditions thy’re all forced to live under, so he requests a transfer back to Orlando. Cunningham states he’ll follow Price anywhere, much to Price’s dismay (“I Am Here For You [Reprise]”). Nabulungi then comes to Cunningham and announces that the villagers are ready to listen to what the missionaries have to say. Cunningham recognizes his opportunity to shine and seizes it in the Act I finale (“Man Up”).
So intermission came and went. The people in front of me left during intermission. They were probably offended–and there’s a lot people could find offensive in this show. Oh well, their loss. I got an even better view of the stage for Act II.
Act II begins with Cunningham admitting that he’s actually never *read* the Book of Mormon because it’s boring. When people begin to leave, he weaves together bits of what he knows about Mormon doctrine as well as science fiction and fantasy stories he’s familiar with in an attempt to relate to the villagers’ struggles (“Making Things Up Again”). During this number, his conscience takes the form of familiar characters and personalities like his father, Joseph Smith, and Yoda. He rationalizes this under the fact that these stories are helping people, so how can that be wrong?
Meanwhile, Price is dreaming he’s in Orlando. Except he thinks he’s in Orlando, but he has no memory of getting there. This turns into a glitter coated nightmare full of people in shiny devil suits, dancing Starbucks cups, Johnny Cochran, and a pink Hitler (“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”)? Jesus also bluntly calls Price a dick and walks away.
Price is severely shaken by all this and decides to re-commit to his mission. None of the other missionaries are surprised by this in the least because they’ve all had the same dream. McKinley also points out that even though the villagers have expressed interest in Mormonism to Cunningham, none will convert unless the General does as well. Price, in his arrogance, is convinced he can convert the General (“I Believe”). The General is beyond unimpressed and he and his henchmen drag Price away. The next time we see Price, he’s having his copy of the Book of Mormon removed from his rectum, along with a comment by the doctor of he’s never seen quite this kind of anal obstruction before.
Meanwhile, Cunningham convinces the villagers to convert. The first to be baptized is Nabulungi (“Baptize Me”). The other missionaries are overjoyed by the villagers’ willingness to convert and feel unity with them (“I Am Africa”). This is another totally reverse racist joke that’s hilarious as hell. It just has to be seen to be understood. Then the General shows up and declares he’s going to kill all the Mormons because they’ll power up the women’s clitorises to defeat him.
Cunningham finds Price drowning his sorrows in a cafe in Kigali. He tells Price that the mission President is physically coming there for a progress report, so they had damned well put a good face on things. Cunningham leaves, and Price reflects on all the broken promises in his life (“Orlando”).
So the mission President shows up and praises Price and Cunningham for their work on behalf of the Mormon Church. Then, the village turns out to have a pageant honoring Joseph Smith and the Mormon beliefs, or at least Mormon Doctrine as told to them by Cunningham (“Joseph Smith American Moses”). The mission President and his staff are mortified and aghast at the distortions in doctrine that Cunningham has taught the villagers. The President is furious and appalled, and orders everyone to pack their bags and head home. Nabulungi is heartbroken and believesthat God has forsaken her (“Hasa Diga Eebowai [Reprise]”). Cunningham is also heartbroken at what he believes to be an utter failure, but Price realizes that while Scripture is important, making sure the message is understood is even more so. Cunningham and Price reconcile and race off to rescue the villagers from the General.
Furious at Cunningham, Nabulungi tells the other villagers he was eaten by a lion when they ask about his whereabouts. The General appears and Nabulungi is ready to submit to him as well as tell him none of the stories the missionaries told her were true. To her shock, the other villagers admit they knew the stories weren’t true. They accepted them as metaphors and simply went from there. Cunningham appears, tells the others he’s risen from the dead, and then Price and Cunningham drive the General out on the grounds he can’t hurt the undead. They also threaten to invoke Christ to turn the General into a lesbian. They realize they can still help people despite their mission being over, because, after all, they’re Latter Day Saints. Price rallies everyone to work together to make a better world. The show ends with new Elders, including (hilariously) the General, evangelizing Mormonism (“Tomorrow Is a Latter Day”/”Hello! (Reprise)”/”Finale”).
I can’t say there were any real standouts among the cast. This is the first time I’ve seen this live, so I’m not familiar enough with it to make any sort of judgements. This is an Equity tour, though, so these aren’t kids fresh out of school. They know what they’re doing. Everything went smoothly, there weren’t any technical glitches that I knew of, and they got a standing ovation at the end.
I’d gladly see this show again. I didn’t find it blasphemous. I did, however, find it very irreverent. I was raised Catholic. We’ve been making fun of clergy since long before the Reformation. Other denominations, not so much. I forget who said this, but they described BoM as an atheist’s love letter to religion. It very much came off that way. And Price and Cunningham reminded me of a lot of the overachieving Mormon kids I went to high school with. Screw up their mission? Hell no! That’d screw up their free ride through BYU–and I couldn’t say I’d blame them.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening. And it did rain–my car was wet when I found it in the parking lot.
This is playing in NYC and London, as well as this tour. See it if you can. You won’t regret it.