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Rated R For "Redemptive"
By Colleen Foster
With a sing-out to “Hello!,” the show’s opening number: Hello! My name is Colleen Foster! And I would like to share with you the most amazing Book!
Ever since they first saw the musical, my older brother (shall I call him Elder Foster?) and his girlfriend have been evangelical in their enthusiasm for The Book of Mormon. If the Tony tally has a golden leg on which to stand, the American Theatre Wing is in agreement: winning nine awards in 2011, the original Broadway production won over its converts. And now, slightly unexpectedly, I count myself among them.
Until I saw the Second National Tour at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Book had been a peculiar unchecked box in my repertoire of musicals. It was by no means ever rejected in my mind, but not a priority when other tickets surfaced.
Maybe the names of the creative team sketched out certain expectations, expectations that did not at all repel me but made me naively think that just pulling up an episode of South Park, the adult animated sitcom that has run almost two decades to collegiate male glee, would provide a close experience. After all, The Book of Mormon is the creation of South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, plus Robert Lopez, who was half of the team behind Avenue Q, or Sesame Street for adults (and Frozen, but that seems to have broken a mold by being for actual children).
Let’s be clear, Mormon does not eschew the shockers. But somehow it all cleverly, ingeniously comes together in an experiential sequence along these lines: Oh my God, I can’t believe they went there. Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m laughing at how they went there. F*ck it, I’m laughing.
The plot is straightforward. Fresh out of missionary training in Provo, Utah, misfit Elder Cunningham (in this cast, the bumblingly brilliant Cody Jamison Strand) and Elder Price (David Larsen, appropriately nasal and full of it) fly to their assignment in Uganda. This is a far cry from the gauzy Orlando, Florida mission setting of which the latter had dreamt. They find themselves in a rural village ravaged by AIDS and a local warlord named General Butt F*cking Naked (an allusion to a real Somalian warlord in the ‘70s, General Butt Naked--Matt and Trey didn’t even have to try for that one). The locals, including pseudo-ingenue Nabulungi (the talented Candace Quarrels, still amidst her music theater studies at Belmont University), ultimately are motivated to fight oppression by the Elders’ teachings.
A lot to take in, perhaps, for someone ready to sit down to some jazz hands and torch ballads. Look closely, though, and it’s a rollicking parody of the Broadway genre. Elder Price’s “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” is a quintessential “I want” song, tossing out hopes and dreams to the universe--or Our Heavenly Father, in this case--like Wicked’s “The Wizard and I.” The Ugandan welcome jam of “Hasa Diga Eebowai” directly takes The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata” and translates it into, well, something which Simba might not say in front of Mufasa. The Ugandans’ final play-within-a-play presented to the visiting LDS leaders has a hint of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” in The King and I (which is where the Rodgers & Hammerstein parallels stop abruptly). These are just a sampling of allusions to the theater canon.
To those writing Book off as just a fun Broadway show that their teenage son won’t groan at seeing, once again, look closely. What starts for the Elders as a Pokémon-esque gotta’-catch-’em-all view of accomplishing as many baptisms as possible shifts into something of actual meaning. The interpretation of the Book of Mormon with which Elder Cunningham wins the Ugandans’ trust is erroneous, populated by Ewoks and Hobbits, but it empowers them to be more upstanding people. And isn’t that what religion really is about? Even if it’s the infamous Flying Spaghetti Monster who receives your prayers, if that dogma makes you more kind and patient in this sphere, does it really matter?
If you won’t get bogged down in the four-letter words, you absolutely must wrangle up tickets before The Book of Mormon leaves the Kennedy Center Opera House mid-August. Then you too can start knocking on people’s doors and singing.
#Real #BookOfMormon #Review #Hello! #SocialCommentary #Broadway
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