20 April 2011


How (Much)
The Book Of Mormon [Explicit] [+Digital Booklet]Lottery rush two and a half hours before curtain. I was surprised by the crowd so early in the run, but realized while waiting that it's exactly the type of show that would draw a devoted audience (funny in a way that appeals to a younger crowd, and also likely to engender a cult following like Avenue Q and "South Park"). I would estimate the crowd swelled to between 250 and 300 people by 6pm on Tuesday, and I won the first pair of seats in the left box (the first 14 are in the front row of the orchestra) for $32 each. I only missed about 5 total minutes of action upstage right, and it was all easy to surmise and with characters we had already met and knew. The box seats are so close to the stage that I felt like I was in the action - I'd highly recommend them.

I went with a longtime friend who is also up for absolutely anything content-wise and loves to laugh; she was the perfect companion.

Writers Matt Stone, Trey Parker and Robert Lopez are known, of course, for Avenue Q and "South Park." This show is exactly what a cross between those two shows would look like if you took out the puppets and added Mormons. I am not a big "South Park" fan but grew to love Avenue Q over its run (it was so hyped up to me about being so edgy and hilarious that when I saw it I felt it didn't warrant the hype, but loved it on its own accord later on). I loved Book of Mormon. I don't know that I've ever laughed so hard and so consistently through a Broadway show. Mormon is clever without trying to hard to flash its cleverness, joyful and fun in the midst of oddly heavy plot points and, most surprisingly, simple in its celebration of the form of the modern musical and the nature of faith, religious or otherwise.

I would introduce the humor with this: it's a challenge to make topics like female circumcision, the rape of babies, genocide and AIDS funny. This leads to some laughs being more covering-my-mouth-and-shaking-my-head uncomfortable laughter than true this-is-simply-hilarious laughter. But there's quite a bit of the latter, too; you just have to be willing to revel in the nontraditional content. The cast sings a "Hakuna Matata"-style "fuck you, God," celebrates a man with perennial maggots in his scrotum, and tells a young Mormon with homosexual thoughts to simply "turn it off." Simply put, the humor isn't for everyone. But if you're willing to give off-color content and religious revisionism a shot, you'll be rewarded with a musical brimming with heart and joy.

I'm cautious to share anything at all about a show's plot, especially here when nearly every reveal is a monstruous laugh, but I'll say this: Young Mormon men are preparing to be sent on their missions, and Elder Price has been praying for years to be sent to a certain U.S. city that he believes is one of the most incredible places on earth. Instead, he is sent to Uganda and paired with the screw up of the group, a kind compulsive liar without any friends. The crisis of faith this produces - "Why didn't Heavenly Father answer my prayers?" - and the young men's Ugandan missionary experience form the central plot of the show.

Josh Gad (as the loveable screw up) clearly leads this cast. He has an infectious energy and an offbeat sense of humor perfect for the show and for being the audience's anchor through this adventure. I appreciated that he was always on - I found myself cracking up at little things (facial expressions, small gifts to other actors) he did while action was elsewhere. He was not distracting, just always in service of the show at the moment.

Beyond Gad, there isn't a weak spot in the entire ensemble. The casting director managed to find almost a dozen young, fresh-faced white boys who all looked like they had never left Provo while remaining charming, eminently likeable and versatile enough to play a number of very unique parts. (It wasn't lost on this audience member that all Mormon women were portrayed by men in drag. Nice touch, team.) It was also a joy to see some former Hair standouts and a Wicked favorite (Tommar Wilson, Michael James Scott, Asmeret Ghebremichael) shine in fun, creative roles.

If You Like 
  • Avenue Q, but don't mind losing the puppets and being significantly more offended by the content
  • The Drowsy Chaperone's method of entertaining you with a traditional musical with its tongue firmly in its cheek because it is also making one giant ironic comment about musicals
  • The way a show like Shrek subtly and not-so-subtly sends up other musicals

Bottom Line
See it. I feel strongly about theater challenging our beliefs and political correctness, so I would recommend Book of Mormon even to those I thought might be offended by it. I'm not convinced it's the place to take business colleagues you don't know well or potential in-laws you're trying to impress, but if you can go with someone open-minded with whom you can have a great conversation afterward, make a beeline to the Eugene O'Neill Theater. I've seen a number of exceptional shows this season and I feel Book of Mormon is a strong Tony contender (and deservedly so).