“The Book of Mormon” is not a literal stage version of the teachings of Mormonism. Instead, the nine-time Tony Award-winning musical has been capturing audiences for the past few years with its farcical look at religion. While entertaining, “The Book of Mormon” walks the fine line between hilarity and vulgarity.
The show centers on the story of two Mormon missionaries, Elder Cunningham and Elder Price, as they set out for their mission trips. Price, the ideal Mormon boy, is paired with the dorky, compulsive liar, Cunningham. The two are assigned to do mission work in Uganda, ruining Price’s dream to serve in Orlando.
Upon arriving in Uganda, the pair meets a quirky group of missionaries, the locals and a warlord. Price flees the mission, and to convert the Ugandans, Cunningham tells them lies about his religion. After having a “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” Price has a change of heart and returns to the missionary camp. The boys baptize the locals, and all is well until the lies they’ve been teaching are revealed. The show ends with the missionaries and newly converted Mormons accepting their religion despite their mistakes and doubts.
With all the awards and acclaim it has received, I had high hopes for “The Book of Mormon,” so my question going into the show was whether or not it would live up to the hype.
There is a reason why fans everywhere are falling in love with “The Book of Mormon.” Itis satirical and touching nature and wit makes it a relatable show that is irresistible to all audiences.
One must keep in mind that “The Book of Mormon” was created by the makers of “South Park,” meaning the musical has controversial subject matter viewers might find offensive. Cursing is plentiful, vulgar jokes are numerous and it playfully mocks Mormonism. Whether or not these elements are tasteful, they are hilarious and serve to poke fun at a group of people, not insult them.
Elder Price, played by Mark Evans, a Broadway-show veteran, perfectly portrays the stereotypical goody-goody Mormon boy. His counterpart, Elder Cunningham, played by Christopher John O’Neill in his Broadway debut, is nerdy and hilarious. Cunningham provided only comedy in the start of the show, but by the end, he had earned the audience’s love.
The sincerity of the characters keeps “The Book of Mormon” from being blatantly offensive. The actors played their parts as caricatures, fitting with the campy script. But moments including Evans’ performance of “I Believe” and the breathtaking, comic ballad “Sal Tlay Ka Siti,” sung by the village chief’s daughter, Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware) bring a touching truthfulness to the show.
There are clever references to other musicals in show’s songs, displaying an appreciation for Broadway history. “Hello” is reminiscent of “Telephone Hour” from “Bye, Bye Birdie,” “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” mimics “Somewhere That’s Green” from “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “You And Me (But Mostly Me)” sounds similar to “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked” — just to name a few.
Intricate backdrops inspired by a sparkling Salt Lake City are quickly exchanged for a dreary but oddly beautiful Ugandan village, which then transforms into Hell with the use of impressive lighting.
If not viewed with open eyes, it is easy to cast “The Book of Mormon” off as a funny show with no real value. When examined closely, the musical’s overall message and wit make it stand out among many other Broadway shows in production today. Looking past its explicit nature, “The Book of Mormon” conveys the message that it is okay to believe in something, even if it is a little bit silly.