Mormons, Mormons, Mormons!
Some friends and I attended a performance of "The Book of Mormon" recently here in Chicago. It was hilarious, warm, and dare I say it...uplifting. However, whatever you have heard about it being offensive and profane is true. It is all of those things. Many people, mostly those of a straitlaced religious bent, will be offended.
But if you have an open mind and can catch the wave that the creators are riding you will have a wonderful time.
The Book of Mormon is really a pastiche of and a genuflection to the great traditional Broadway musicals of the past - everything from "The Sound of Music", "Bye, Bye Birdie", "The King and I", "The Lion King", and many more. It's sweet and heart-warming with big show stopping numbers delivered by cuddly, sincere characters I fell in love with.
The two main characters, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, are sent to Uganda for their two year mission to convert the natives of a small village. These missionaries are naive, fresh-faced dewy-eyed innocents who are genuinely trying to improve the lives of the people they enocunter by spreading their testimony of Jesus as they have learned it through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).
|Nic Rouleau as Elder Price|
|Ben Platt as Elder Cunningham|
"...we're fighting for a cause but we're really, really nice. We are the army of the Church of Jesus Christ....ofLatterDaySaints." from the song "Two by Two"
These two amiable fish way out of water do their darndest to follow the training they received back in Utah but are unprepared to face the realities of daily life in Uganda - poverty, AIDS, murderous warlords, forced female genital mutilation - not what they expected. Not what you expect in your average Broadway musical either. It doesn't make sense but the show works.
|L-R Matt Stone, Trey Parker, Nic Rouleau, choreographer Casey Nicholow|
And it works magnificently.
It was conceived and written by the creators of "South Park" - Trey Parker and Matt Stone, in collaboration with the composer/lyricist of the musical "Avenue Q" Robert Lopez.
|from the Broadway production|
One of my companions to the theater is an ex-Mormon. He grew up in the LDS church but left when he was a teenager so never went on the two year mission which is a requirement for all good Mormons when they reach the age of 18. We talked and raved about the show on the way home, and he said he was amazed at how accurately it portrayed much of the way of thinking in the church as well as the simple enthusiasm of the true believers. By the way, my friend showed up wearing the regulation short sleeved white shirt, black trousers and black tie worn by the missionaries. All that was missing was the name tag - he had tried to get one made but was unable. Anyhoo, seeing him in the outfit was the first big laugh of the evening.
Also, as we waited outside the theater for our ride after the show we ran into actor James Vincent Meredith as he was leaving. Mr. Meredith has a major role in the production and he was great in it, although he was practically unrecognizable in civilian clothes. One of my friends works in Chicago theater and knows Mr. Meredith who is a Chicago area native. We had a chance to chat with him which was a lot of fun. He said he enjoys the (relative) anonymity of being able to walk down a street without being recognized and is looking toward the company going on tour after it leaves Chicago.
|James Vincent Meredith plays Mafala Hatimbi in "Book of Mormon"|
|Syesha Mercado as Nabalungi with James Vincent Meredith as Mafala Hatimbi|
There is a lot of profanity - both scatalogical and blasphemous - but c'mon, what do you expect? It's the "South Park" guys. None of it is mean-spirited believe it or not. Just be aware of what you are in for.
As I said, if you have an open mind, a sense of humor and can lighten up even just a little you will probably love this show. At any rate it won't do you any harm at all. It might even be good for your soul.
It closes at the Bank of America Theater on Oct 6, 2013. A movie version is inevitable, but who wants to wait that long? GO!!
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