Thursday, July 30, 2015

Theater Review: The Book of Mormon

*Our* musical finally comes home

Posted By on July 30, 2015, 8:23 AM

If you wanted to get a sense for how ready a Utah audience was for The Book of Mormon, you only needed to wait until the end of the opening musical number, “Hello.” As a screen lifted to show a painted backdrop representing downtown Salt Lake City—complete with signs for Crown Burger and Zions Bank—the crowd exploded, drowning out the last several bars of the song. This musical—our musical—had come home.

The success of The Book of Mormon all over the country—from Tony Awards and Broadway success to its touring productions—has shown that it’s not just about us, of course. The gleefully crude show by Avenue Q composer Robert Lopez and South Park creators Trey Parker & Matt Stone—following eager young Mormons Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) and Elder Cunningham (A. J. Holmes) on their challenging mission to Uganda—offers up plenty of catchy songs and hilarious punch lines that transcend cultural specifics.

Yet it’s also hard to ignore that plenty of the people in the Capitol Theatre audience felt a unique connection to the material, whether it was the jaunty paean to repressed desires in “Turn It Off,” or the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” which features dancing cups of coffee along with the pitchfork-wielding devils. And it’s impossible to imagine any other group of viewers being quite so delighted when Ugandan LDS convert Nabulungi (Alexandra Ncube) sings a ballad to the wonders she expects to find in the magical place called “Sal Tlay Ka Siti.”

Of course, it’s a show that steps up to the boundary of good taste, takes a huge crap on that boundary, then runs naked and swearing several miles past it. There has never been anything sacred in the Stone/Parker universe, and if that means mocking the Joseph Smith story, or portraying a particularly undignified place where a Ugandan warlord has shoved a Book of Mormon, so be it. But even as the show turns specific LDS doctrine into the comedic lyrics of “I Believe,” it’s also a unique celebration of the power of religious stories—no matter how ridiculous they might seem—to bring comfort to people’s lives. The Book of Mormon may cast a more-than-slightly skeptical glance at religious imperialism and the idea that any belief system is a panacea—the show’s brilliant final lyric punctures that notion—but it actually provides an alternate perspective on what a missionary might accomplish. Salt Lakers are far from the only people who might find that notion delightful, even if certain jokes are bound to hit far closer to home.
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