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The Book of Mormon: Give It a Miss

May 5th, 2017 · No Comments · London, Movies

I was prepared to like The Book Of Mormon, the musical that deeply involves the South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

The show made its debut in 2011, but only last night did I get around to seeing it, at the Prince of Wales Theater in London’s Soho district.

I have a sense of humor crude enough that much of Parker & Stone’s material in South Park, the TV show, or their two movies, delights me and very little of it offends me … but The Book Of Mormon?

Mildly but consistently offensive, arguably racist, with music that leaves no impression on the mind.

This opinion runs counter to those outlined by many (most?) professional critics, and certainly will be viewed as heresy by fans of the show — some of whom appear to be approaching Rocky Horror levels of commitment to the dialogue.

The show is meant to shine a light on some of the … let’s say interesting … beliefs taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — usually known simply as “Mormons” in the U.S., though many of them prefer to be known by the LDS acronym.

Two fault lines run through The Book Of Mormon.

The first is that, while Mormonism may be Out There in the view of most Christians, many of whom do not consider Mormons to be Christians at all, but it is somewhere on the spectrum of belief in Jesus and all that entails — virgin birth, sinless life, risen from the dead.

And once you or the people around you begin laughing at Mormon gullibility for accepting many of the basic tenets of their U.S.-grown religion, pretty much summed up by the show’s song “I Believe”, almost anyone who believes in any religion is going to grasp that Parker & Stone are calling into question the ultimately un-provable beliefs of those in the audience.

(Let’s see: The parting of the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites; Jesus’s virgin birth; the holiness of cows; the existence of nirvana …)

As soon as someone at the show begins to squirm at the notion of large group of people laughing at religion … a lot of the humor disappears.

Second, is the relationship between the two Mormon missionaries, who are sent to the African nation of Uganda, and the Ugandans themselves, or at least those who appear in the show.

Lots of recent stereotypes of the continent are trotted out. The village visited by the Mormons is run by gun-toting thugs; a significant fraction of the population has AIDS; Ugandans have silly and complicated names that the Mormons can’t be bothered to remember.

It is almost as if the South Park guys settled on Uganda for their Book Of Mormon setting because they needed Africa-inflected musical numbers they were not going to get from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And they were counting on a collision of “aren’t they weird?” cultures to amuse those of us watching the show from the balcony.

Ultimately, the first conversion takes place when an ill-prepared missionary, forgetful of Mormon doctrine, begins free-lancing during his chats with the locals, including Star Wars, Star Trek and Hobbits in his off-the-cuff preaching.

I suspected things were not going to go well when, in the first five or 10 minutes, people around me began laughing at things I did not think were funny.

It went on like that, except it got worse. Big laugh lines … still not moved.

The music is forgettable, a reality brought into contrast by my having heard hours of Gershwin the night before, in An American in Paris. I certainly was not humming the tune to TBOM’s “Making Things Up Again” as I left the theater.

Three admissions.

–American critical response to the play has been very good. The New York Times loved The Book Of Mormon. So did most other print outlets. Some Brits have expressed reservations, but they mostly have been shouted down. Or ignored.

–The theater-going experience cannot separate the show and its execution from the distant seats in upper rows. We sat in seats perhaps intended for starving smallish people from another age, and with a capacity crowd, a sense of claustrophobia was always lurking. Also, it was Just Plain Hot up there, and I was this close to stripping down to a T-shirt, which no one wants to see. A swamp cooler, maybe?

–The show ended with understudies doing the two biggest parts in the production. Elder Price, usually played by K.J. Hippensteel, disappeared at intermission; Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand) didn’t perform at all. Perhaps I would have liked it better, had they been around. (Probably not.)

So, yes, musicals are like other types of media: Your must-see TV makes me yawn. A movie is not for everyone. Your magazine is not mine. And everyone loves The Book Of Mormon except, apparently, me.




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