Thursday, December 01, 2011

Five Snouts Up for Book of Mormon on Broadway

(:)(:)(:)(:)(:) for The Book of Mormon on Broadway. "Ding, dong," the opening song in this amazing show tells us, "have you read this most amazing book? ... eternal life is super fun." And I have to confess it's been almost an eternity since I saw the play (August) and I am super remiss in not blogging on it (or much of anything, for that matter). Especially since this show is winning my coveted 5 snouts, almost never awarded. My experience of seeing this show, co-created by South Park creators Trey Park and Matt Stone teaming up with Robert Lopez (Avenue Q), was colored by my relationship with Trey Park's co-Tony-winning director (and choreographer) Casey Nicholaw. Casey and I came up together in San Diego's Jr. Theatre (pronounced "thee-ay-ter) if you're one of its bratty kids and we were. For years we were part of a tight-knit gang of kids whose whole world revolved around several shows a year, mostly musicals, produced by this top notch then City-run extracurricular program. Casey was enthusiastic, bright, friendly and kind. Everyone was happy to be in his presence. The last time I actually saw Casey may have been the summer of 1979 when trips to Europe coincided (the dollar was strong then, kids) and Casey came over from London to visit me in Paris. We quickly learned that we had different tastes in cities, food and how to spend time. This came to a head (pun intended) while watching Gore Vidal's Caligula which fascinated Casey and disgusted me. I think it was during that film that I developed a basic guideline of walking out of movie during the second anal rape. Anyway, back to the future, Casey is the toast of the town and allows me to presume upon our shared past enough to put aside 4 of the stellar seats allocated to him (he had done this for me before for Spamalot which he choreographed. We had listened to the show soundtrack a couple of times beforehand, but nothing compares to the actual show with this original cast (no understudies that Saturday matinee, yay!). Everything about it was perfect. How on earth, I continue to wonder, can a show possibly simultaneously be this irreverent and reverent? It makes no sense. These folks, while skewering the lunatic beliefs undergirding the Mormon faith and highlighting its complete irrelevance to the very real problems of rural Ugandans (a brilliant juxtaposition, btw), somehow manage to give us compassion and understanding of the very real level of faith a true member of the Latter Day Saints can have in their hearts. Nowhere is this more evident than in the show stopper number "I believe" in which Elder Price (played impeccably by Andrew Rannells) re-affirms and discovers his faith and marches in to confront a Ugandan warlord (with humiliating results). The song is simultaneously uplifting, inspiring and hilarious. Consider "I believe that God has a plan for all of us. I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet. I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri." I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention "I am Africa," which presents a devastating chorus line of young white Mormon boy "elders" dressed in white singing their hearts out about Africa. Lines like, "Just like Bono, I am Africa" lead me to double-over with pain slapping the seat in front of me, tears coming out of my eyes. Casey's choreography stunningly highlighting the chasm between these men and the impoverished AIDS-ridden terrified people they seek to convert. Perhaps I am uniquely situated to love this show as a girl who grew up perverting musical theater lyrics backstage in Jr. Theater to become, among other things, a new thought minister with a deep faith of her own and fascination with all religious traditions. One wonders though, as it takes to the road and a life post Broadway (in years to come), one wonders how first Uganda number, "Hasa Diga Eebowai," a brutal send-up of Lion King's "Akuna Matata" will survive. If the culture of the US ever (d)evolves to the point where San Diego Jr. Theater kids can stand on stage singing "Fuck you God in the ass mouth and cunt" then the shock factor and social critique of this production will have long since faded (not to mention they'd have to recruit a few more black kids to pull it off). Thank you South Park boys and Casey Nicholaw for this treat.

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