The Book of Mormon: “When Bad Overshadows Good”
There are certain songs that are scientifically designed to stay in your head for far longer than you want them to. What many refer to as an ‘earworm,’ scientists from Durham University now know the exact reasons those songs loop in your head repeatedly. It’s all about starting with an upbeat tempo, a familiar melody, and what the Washington Post calls a ‘unique interval pattern.’
Although I didn’t know this information when I went into a Saturday night showing of Book of Mormon, I sure left with a few of the songs stuck in my head days later. Brought to the Ellie Caulkins Opera Theater at the Denver Center for Performing Arts by producers Robert Lopez, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone, the critically-acclaimed Broadway musical is chalk full of magnificent numbers that often had me nodding along to the beat. From the first song which introduced the audience to the sprightly bunch of Mormon elder’s as they go door to door on their ventures to spread the Mormon faith (‘Hello’), I was full of excitement—and danced in my stiff seats, as best I could.
Book of Mormon tells the tale of two eager Mormon boys who get sent to Uganda to do their missionary work. Navigating the complexities within the community leads the duo on a world-wind of a journey made up of religious queries, love affairs, and the trials of friendship. All in all, the basis of the production is something that I can’t helpbutstand by.
That was, until, I started paying attention to what exactly they were singing and carrying on about. The vulgarity behind such charming storylines made itself quite clear, which made it harder for me to enjoy the roles played by the diverse company of performers.
From digs at any form of religion to topics that I can’t even mention here, the contentwasraw, and more prominent than the phenomenal performing. And this is coming from a religious skeptic who was raised in a Catholic home, but who has been faced with numerous trials that have tested my ‘faith.’ Despite all of that, I was still shocked by how far the jokes were taken. I was left stuck, sitting with a rumble in belly. That rumble, I knew wasn’t coming from hunger since it was full of duck confit, goat cheese fritters, and red wine.
That rumble was the beginning of a long night, that ended with tears and questions about the direction of performance art and whether or not the audience understood the predicaments presented by the South Park sister show.
Based on what has now become a long-standing satirical joke involving the Mormon faith, the musical follows young elders on their journey of preaching the faith. After mastering the art of pitching at the training center, the young Mormon teens are paired up and shipped out.With big dreams of taking his religious aspirations to Orlando, Elder Price (Kevin Clay) is the star pupil ready to serve his faith the only way he knows how: With wide-eyes and a big smile. But when he is paired with the runt of the group, Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson), and headed to Africa to preach, the dysfunctional pair stumble quickly. And rightfully so: For the task at hand in Uganda is harder than expected. All signs of religion have been overshadowed by the warlords, AIDS, and an overall negative opinion of God’s will.
If itendedthere, and didn’t push any more buttons, my opinion of the production would’ve been more positive. But because throughout the musical, the list of disrespect continued. I tried to focus on the tap segment that left me wanting to take a class, or the beautiful voice of Nabulungi (Kayla Pecchioni) as she gracefully butchered the pronunciation of ‘Salt Lake City,’ leaving us with something a little less clear.
Nothing the ensemble did rid my mouth of the bad taste left by poor attempts athumour doused in profanity. I thought someone else would be upset. I thought someone else would notice. I thought someone else would feel the same way I was feeling.
But as I looked around, the packed crowd laughed on and on, masking their misery in laughter, while I sat still, counting down the minutes until I would get to leave. I wondered how much everyone else spent on these tickets, and whether or not they were laughing because they didn’t know what else to do with the blatant stereotypes. I couldn’t tell if the audience felt like me—since no one looked like me—and if they understood the satirical spin that the South Park creators sewed into the fabric of what otherwise would’ve been a stellar musical. I wondered how many other people of color were in the audience, and whether they too sat confused and ready to leave. I counted five, during the intermission that made me doubt if I should gobackin to my uncomfortable seat in that hot theater.
If you’re reading this wondering if it’s worth the praise (and cost) to see Book of Mormon on one of the last nights, let me give you this note of warming: See at your own risk, for if you have any affiliations that are near and dear to your heart, they will be persecuted during the production. Don’t bring the kids and don’t even think about bringing your church-loving relative or else your relationship might be damaged by intermission.