Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book of Musicals

I did not grow up a fan of musical theater. As a kid I was into sports and Star Wars and computer games and TV. But people spontaneously breaking out into song and dance? That wasn't a part of my childhood.

Not a fan

It's taken a lot of time, but thanks to muppets having sex and Mormons singing about clitorises, I've become a fan of Broadway musicals. It's hard to listen to show tunes and be in a bad mood. There's just something about them that makes me so goddamn happy in spite of myself.

I only own two Broadway musicals CDs. The first was Avenue Q, which I bought a few years ago after someone played me a video for the song "The Internet is for Porn" and I knew I just had to hear the whole show. And it's brilliant, like Sesame Street for adults. For many years Avenue Q was the only Broadway musical I knew intimately. I finally got to see it during a trip to New York a few years ago. It was awesome.

The Internet is for posting dorky tourist pics of you in front of the Avenue Q poster. And porn.

Last weekend I doubled my collection of Original Broadway Cast Recordings when I bought The Book of Mormon. I'd been hearing everywhere about how great it was, and since it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, I figured I'd try it out. (When I got the CD, I saw that Robert Lopez also co-wrote it. I thought I recognized that name, so I looked on my Avenue Q CD, and sure enough, he co-wrote that too. Good sign.)


The Book of Mormon had a lot to live up to. Everyone was raving about it. Even people who had their doubts became converts. Dan Savage wrote this about it in his column:

I didn’t think it was possible, but Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone’s brilliant new musical about well-intentioned Mormons on a mission exceeds the hype. It’s the funniest, dirtiest, smartest thing that this showqueen has ever seen on Broadway.

I have to admit that about halfway through my first listen, there was a small disappointment. I think maybe my expectations were too high. The music wasn't great and much of the lyrics felt like too much South Park shock value. But the story ended so brilliantly that it pulled me back in. And on the second, third, and fourth listen it grew on me even more. I was impressed with how it all fit together.

I haven't even seen the show. I only have the CD and the liner notes to go on. But the music alone is funny and raunchy (even for me it gets too crude in places) and smart in that it brings up lots of issues about religion, belief, oral (hehe) traditions and mythology. And there are lots of wacky misinterpretations.

Of course it makes fun of Mormons. To wit:

Wow! So the Bible is actually a trilogy, and the Book of Mormon is Return of the Jedi?!? I'M interested. ("All-American Prophet")

Imagine that your brain is made of tiny boxes, then find the box that's gay and... CRUSH IT!!... Turn it off, like a light switch. ("Turn It Off")

You're making things up again, Arnold. You're taking the holy word and adding fiction! ("Making Things Up Again")

I can't believe Jesus called me a dick!!!! ("Spooky Mormon Hell Dreams")

And I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America. I am a Mormon, and a Mormon just believes. ("I Believe.")

I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!!! You can be a Mormon! A Mormon who just believes. ("I Believe")

Let's be really fucking polite to everyone! ("Joseph Smith American Moses")

But despite all this, there is real affection for the Mormon characters in this story. It is not a hostile critique. As it states in the liner notes (much more eloquently than I could): "...the satirical tone is far closer to bemused tolerance than blasphemous antipathy... Parker, Stone and Lopez can't help but be seduced by the fabulousness of those golden plates."

I'm curious what Mormons themselves, if they've seen the show, think about it. I'm sure a lot of them aren't happy about it, but I could see some more open-minded Mormons enjoying it. A quick Google search confirmed my theory:

Mormons find musical 'Book of Mormon' surprisingly sweet

"I was expecting to be offended," said Anne Christensen, a 22-year-old LDS New Yorker, "but was pleasantly surprised by how incredibly sweet it was."

Her mother, Janet Christensen, added: "It's not G-rated, but they treated us with affection. And they did their homework."

Here's a Mormon who thinks it's offensive, although curiously she doesn't say exactly which parts are a "misrepresentation of my Mormon faith."

Are Mormons Offended by Book of Mormon Musical?

And the official statement from the LDS Church is short and "media savvy", as this writer says:

LDS Church Responds to South Park Mormon Musical


Josh Gad, a correspondent for The Daily Show, plays the lead, a simple and confused young man going on his Mormon mission. He confuses the Book of Mormon with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Sometimes he comes across as too "special" and that kind of distracts from his performance, but otherwise he's brilliant. I've never been much impressed with him on the Daily Show, but raunchy musical theater is really his calling.

In particular, Gad's duet with the female lead in "Baptize Me" is the sexiest song about baptism I've ever heard.


I just baptized her!
She got doused by the Heavenly Father!
I just baptized her good!

...I performed like a champ!


You baptized me...

I'm wet with salvation!

There's a lot more to love about this musical, but I'll just leave you with this:

Tomorrow's a doper, phatter latter day!


Anonymous said...

Tim, my wife and I saw the show in NY last December and, if you can believe, it's even more brilliant in person. Not sure I could have had higher expectations, given how much I've enjoyed Baseketball, Orgazmo, South Park, and Team America. But the Book of Mormon completely exceeded my expectations by a mile.

BTW, the ending with the Book of Arnold was the best part of the show, IMO. And that says something.

Tim said...

Thanks, Anon. If I ever get the chance, I will try to see it myself.