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Theatre Review: The Book of Mormon

December 30, 2011

The Book of MormonAfter months of eager anticipation, I recently had the chance to see the groundbreaking, shocking, and hugely popular musical, The Book of Mormon. The hype around this show is epic, thanks in no small part to immense critical praise and a total of 9 shiny Tony Awards. It doesn't hurt that two thirds of the writing team are Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the masterminds behind the cultural phenomenon that is South Park. And while they bring national attention to the show, collaborator Robert Lopez brings Broadway cred, as he co-wrote another Tony-winning Best Musical, Avenue Q, arguably the most edgy show in town before Mormon blessed us with its presence.

Many people may be wondering if this show is worth the admittedly high price of admission and the often months-long wait between ticket purchase and actual showtime. And I am here to tell you that it absolutely is. Now, you have to keep in mind the source of this recommendation: I am a young twenty-something who grew up with the outrageous, sometimes vulgar, always relevant antics of South Park, and I consider myself pretty much unshockable. But I have read reviews and comments online from a variety of patrons, and not all share my enthusiasm. Without generalizing, some older folks with more traditional values and staunchly religious audience members, among others, have found issue with the show's blatant (at times incessant) vulgarity and portrayal of religious figures.

Personally, I very much enjoyed the show's fearless representation of religious dissatisfaction because it highlights very real issues about faith and the struggle to cope with difficulties that privileged American audience members could never conceive of having to deal with. In the show, the two main characters, a pair of Mormon missionaries, are sent to a village in Uganda, a war-torn African country whose citizens deal daily with the threat of murder, hunger, and even female genital mutilation. It seems completely understandable that such a downtrodden group would have difficulty believing in the power, wisdom, and nobility of a deity who would let such bad things happen when they have done nothing to deserve them.

This kernel of honesty is endearing to the audience and is ultimately as engaging as the clever jokes and flawless comedic performances by the show's talented cast. I had downloaded the cast album months before seeing the show and had already memorized most of the words, and yet I still found several surprises throughout the show. There is no substitute for seeing this show performed live. The brilliant comedy in the songs is augmented by the physical comedy and clever dialogue, and the stunning visuals don't disappoint. And, like any traditional-style musical, there is no shortage of impressive dance sequences ("Hasa Diga Ebowai," "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream," and "Turn It Off" are particularly memorable).

I don't want my gushing to seem insincere, because The Book of Mormon really is all it's cracked up to be and more. I have never before encountered a musical in which every single song is catchy, memorable, and well-written, and the score is paired with a brilliant book and true star-making performances. Best of all, this show has real heart, and its irreverence is grounded with touching poignancy. Critics compare this show to the true classic musicals of decades ago while acknowledging its inspired modern additions. Leave your modesty at the door when you see The Book of Mormon and you will discover that they just don't make them like they used to; they make them even better now.

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