A Review of the Play the Book of Mormon
The play The Book of Mormon, narrates the tale of two youthful Mormon missionaries who were posted to a small settlement in Uganda to pass the message of the Latter Day Saints. In Uganda, they were met with adverse cultural differences where anarchy and terrorism ruled the day and the locals lived in fear of the warlord who controlled the region. Both missionaries tried to share the gospel with the local citizens, despite the fact that only one of them had knowledge of the scriptures. The conclusion of the musical is an anticlimax with the president of the Mormons dismissing the converted natives as being ‘fake’ converts. The main aspects of the play to be discussed include the script, casting, the main themes and the theater.
The Book of Mormon is a spiritual satire that criticizes the religious institutions, exemplifies the Mormon lifestyle and ridicules the conventional musical structure and style. On the day the play was being shown at the Bank of America Theater in Chicago, the turnout was very impressive. The Broadway publicity on national television and the internet that featured the highly controversial section of the musical was highly effective in bringing out the Illinois crowd. The Bank of America Theater was also spacious enough, and the view from the balcony where I was located was wonderful. The sound in the theater was also excellent and audible from all locations.
At the entrance, the Mormon missionaries were issuing LSD Scriptures that I later realized held great importance for them as it was considered the authentic Book of Mormon. The choice of Trey Parker as the main producer for the play and the musical was quite baffling as he was the same producer for South Park, a cartoon series filled with cursing and sexual innuendos. This in itself was ironical for me as the Mormon stood outside the theater promoting their religious cause. In fact, at one point in the play, the sacred LSD Scriptures were trusted on the backside of one of the protagonists, showing the good intentions in the play that were delivered in a naive manner.
From the moment the play started, it was evident that it had embraced many contemporary ideas and approaches. The cast consisted of people from various backgrounds but what stood out was their irony. In the first Act, I was captured by Elder Arnold Cunningham who displayed all the traits that were unpleasant in a clergyman. The shift of scenery to the arrival in Uganda, opens up the vulgarity and creativity in the casting as two clergymen are apparently robbed by General ‘Butt-Fucking-Naked’, while a corrupted rendition of ‘Hakuna Matata’ played in the background. The names of the characters were also satirical and highly comical. Moreover, the selection of the cast was done in an excellent way by the two producers. All of the characters showed great personality and energy on the stage.
The contemporary issues plaguing the church, such as homosexuality and materialism, are addressed in the play albeit in a casual and fleeting way. Elder McKinley was struggling with being gay, a theme that was openly brought out in the production. The scene containing the conflict between the native villagers and Elder Price was quite amusing and significant, as it represented the larger conflict between the lifestyle of the first world and third world. I found this comparison of rich countries sending missionaries and poor countries having real problems very disturbing. At this point, the disunity within the church was also brought out in the betrayal of Cunningham by Elder Price.
Slowly, the natives begin to accept Mormonism that gives the missionaries great pleasure. However, things take a turn for the worse with the looming visit by the Mormon president. The president of the Mormons was also introduced in a flashy manner that was followed by an appalled declaration that the natives had embraced the gospel. The soundtracks used in the play were carefully selected to match the different themes. The music served to enhance the quality of the production making it a first-class musical. Some of the tracks used in the musical include You and Me, Turn it Off and Hasa Diga Eebowai. The tracks used were selected from African and European artists who had produced their own works.
The show is an over-sensitive and outrageous satire musical that takes a critical approach at everything from consumerism to structured religion, the condition of the economy and the musical theatre style. The choice of producers Robert Lopez and Trey Parker who are used to production of controversial musicals came as no surprise to the audience who were prepared for many shocks and new aspects of theater. In my opinion, The Book of Mormon was a splendid production that was well produced as evidenced by the sold out tickets and the Tony Award that it won. Putting aside the rash attack on religion and the skewed perspectives of the society, sexuality and individuality, the Book of Mormon is a play worth watching by people who appreciate theater.