The Book of Mormon

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Book of Mormon Musical Review

The Book of Mormon is a hilarious religious satire musical that has won fans in New York, London, Australia, and Sweden since its 2011 release. The production opened to an already excited audience given the illustrious comedy and creative background of its writer. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creative minds behind television’s South Park, wrote the show and co-created its music with Robert Lopez, who has previously worked on hits like Avenue Q and Frozen. The Book of Mormon has one multiple Tony Awards and a Grammy, delighting critics and audiences alike with its quirky storyline, clever music, and side-splitting jokes.

The play follows two Mormon missionaries, the bumbling and awkward Elder Cunningham and self-obsessed Elder Price. The two young friends travel to Uganda to convert the native people to Mormonism, and it is there that they find themselves completely out of their depth. While the boys and their fellow missionaries fail to convert any of the locals to their religion, a terrifying despot begins threatening the villagers. Comedy ensues as the show offers some hilariously delivered moral lessons and lampoons religion, youthful ignorance, and other Broadway productions.

The Book of Mormon was expected to be popular among South Park fans, but in partnership with Lopez, Parker and Stone have created a truly exceptional musical. The show is funny and blasphemous, often silly but never stupid, and its jokes rarely fail to hit their targets. What’s more, The Book of Mormon offers moments of morality and romanticism that are an unexpected but welcome complement to the story. The show may not be enjoyable for people who are against religious satire, but for those who are open to humor around slightly sensitive subjects, The Book of Mormon is a must-see.

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Book of Mormon Musical

 Theater: Eugene O’Neill Theatre
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes (1 intermission)
Starring: Nic Rouleau, Christopher John O’Neill, Kim Exum

The Book of Mormon – Act I
At LDS Church Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, devout, handsome, supercilious missionary-to-be Elder Kevin Price leads his classmates in a demonstration of the door-to-door method to convert people to Mormonism (“Hello!”). One of the missionaries, Elder Arnold Cunningham, is an insecure, incorrigible nerd and a compulsive liar who is unable to follow the approved dialogue. Price believes if he prays enough, he will be sent to Orlando, Florida for his two-year mission, but to his shock he and Cunningham are sent to Uganda as a pair (“Two By Two”). After saying goodbye to their families, the elders board a plane at the Salt Lake City airport. Price is sure he is destined to do something incredible (on his own), while Cunningham is just happy to have a best friend – one he met just the previous day and who, due to mission rule #72, literally cannot leave him alone except to go to the bathroom. (“You and Me (But Mostly Me)”)

Immediately upon arrival in northern Uganda, the two are robbed at gunpoint by soldiers of a local warlord, General Butt-Fucking Naked (an allusion to the real General Butt Naked). They are welcomed to the village by the chief, Mafala Hatimbi, and a group of villagers share their daily realities of living in appalling conditions of famine, poverty, and AIDS, while being ruled by Butt-Fucking Naked, who is despotic, murderous, and obsessed with female genital mutilation. To make their lives seem better, the villagers constantly repeat a phrase after stating the various misfortunes in their lives. (“Hasa Diga Eebowai”) Price and Cunningham happily join them in the song, but are horrified to find out that “hasa diga eebowai” translates to “Fuck you, God”. Elder Price tries to explain to the villagers that “things aren’t always as bad as they seem” to no avail, as the villagers are plagued by atrocities including but not limited to the raping of infants, AIDS, female circumcision, and scrotum dwelling maggots.

Price and Cunningham, defeated and mortified, are led to their living quarters by Nabulungi, Hatimbi’s daughter, where they meet the fellow missionaries stationed in the area, who have been unable to convert anyone to Mormonism. Elder McKinley, the district leader, teaches Price and Cunningham a widely accepted method of dealing with the negative and upsetting feelings brought on by the challenges of Mormon life (including McKinley’s own repressed homosexual thoughts), inviting them to “turn it off like a light switch” (“Turn It Off”). The others agree their feelings must be hidden at all costs. Though Price is riddled with anxiety, Cunningham reassures him that he will succeed in bringing the native Ugandans to the church, and that as his partner, Cunningham will be by his side no matter what. (“I Am Here for You”).

Price is certain that he can succeed where the other Mormon elders have failed, teaching the villagers about Joseph Smith through a song that begins as a tribute to Smith but eventually descends into a tribute by Price to himself (“All-American Prophet”). The villagers do not show any interest in the slightest as they find religion useless and Price arrogant and annoying. Shortly after Price’s attempt to dazzle the villagers, General Butt-Fucking-Naked arrives and announces his demand for the genital mutilation of all female villagers by week’s end (as his paranoia has led him to believe that all of the clitorises in the village will “power up” and destroy him). After a villager protests, the general executes him without warning, spattering Price with blood. Safely hiding back at home, Nabulungi, moved by Price’s promise of an earthly paradise, dreams of a better life in a new land (“Sal Tlay Ka Siti”).

At the mission headquarters, Elder McKinley flies into a panic after receiving a message saying the Mission President has requested a full progress report on their utterly unsuccessful mission, and his anxiety is only worsened after he learns of Price and Cunningham’s failure. Shocked by the execution and the dark reality of Africa, Price decides to abandon his mission and requests a transfer to Orlando while Cunningham, ever loyal, assures Price he will follow him anywhere (“I Am Here For You [Reprise]”). However, Price unceremoniously dumps him as mission companion. Cunningham is crushed and alone, but when Nabulungi comes to him, wanting to learn more about the Book of Mormon and having convinced the villagers to listen to him, Cunningham finds the courage to take control of the situation for the first time in his life (“Man Up”).

The Book of Mormon – Act II
Cunningham has never actually read the Book of Mormon, so when his audience begins to get frustrated and leave, he quickly makes up stories by combining what he knows of Mormon doctrines with bits and pieces of science fiction and fantasy. Cunningham’s creative stories also relate to the problems of living in a war-torn Uganda, which gets the people listening. Cunningham’s conscience (personified by his father, Joseph Smith, hobbits, Lt. Uhura, Darth Vader, and Yoda) admonishes him, but he rationalizes that if it helps people, it surely cannot be wrong (“Making Things Up Again”).

Price joyfully arrives in Orlando but then realizes that he has no memory of getting there and that he is dreaming. He reflects on a misdemeanor he committed in his childhood – blaming the theft of a doughnut on his brother, Jack. He is reminded of the nightmares of hell he had as a child and flies into a panic when his nightmare begins once again (“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”). In his dream Price is plunged into hell, where he is tortured by demons (Lucifer, the spirits of Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Genghis Khan and Johnnie Cochran) and dancing cups of coffee. Most upsettingly, Jesus appears and, noting both the doughnut incident and the abandonment of his companion, calls Price a dick.

Price awakens from his nightmare and, terror stricken, decides to re-commit to his mission (to the complete lack of surprise of the other elders, who have all had the hell dream before). Cunningham arrives and announces that ten eager Ugandans are interested in the church, but still stung by Price’s rejection, he is unwilling to let Price back into his life. McKinley points out that unless the general is dealt with, no one will convert. Price, seeing the chance to prove his worth, is inspired and sets off on the “mission he was born to do”. After re-affirming his faith, he confronts the general with the Book of Mormon in hand, determined to convert him (“I Believe”). The general is unimpressed and angrily drags Price away; Price is next seen in the village doctor’s office, having the Book of Mormon removed from his rectum.

Cunningham concludes his preaching and the villagers are enchanted; they are baptized and accept Mormonism, with Nabulungi and Cunningham sharing a tender moment as they do (“Baptize Me”). The Mormon missionaries feel oneness with the people of Uganda, and celebrate (“I Am Africa”). Meanwhile, the general hears of the villagers’ conversion and, fearing that the Mormons will “power up their clitorises” to destroy him, resolves to kill them all.

Having lost his faith, Price drowns his sorrows in numerous cups of coffee at a café in Kigali where Cunningham finds him. He tells the bitter Price they need to at least act like mission companions, as the Mission President and other senior Mormon leaders are coming to visit the Ugandan mission team to congratulate them on their progress. After Cunningham leaves, Price bitterly reflects on all the broken promises the Church, his parents, his friends and life in general made to him (“Orlando”).

At the celebration, Price and Cunningham are singled out as the most successful missionaries in all of Africa. Shortly thereafter, Nabulungi and the villagers burst in, and ask to perform a pageant to “honor [them] with the story of Joseph Smith, the American Moses” (“Joseph Smith American Moses”), which reflects the distortions of standard Mormon doctrine and embellishments put forth by Cunningham: the pageant includes Joseph Smith having sex with frogs to cure his AIDS, “Great Wizard” Moroni coming down from the starship Enterprise, Jesus admonishing Brigham Young against removing his daughter’s clitoris, and Smith dying of dysentery. The Mission President is appalled, and orders all the missionaries to go home and tells Nabulungi that she and her fellow villagers are not Mormons. Nabulungi, heartbroken at the thought that she will never reach paradise, curses God for forsaking her (“Hasa Diga Eebowai [Reprise]”). Cunningham is distraught at his failure, but Price has had an epiphany and realizes Cunningham was right all along: though scriptures are important, what is more important is getting the message across, which Cunningham succeeded in doing (“You and Me (But Mostly Me) [Reprise]”). Reconciled, they race off to rescue Nabulungi and the villagers from the general.

Still angry at Cunningham, Nabulungi tells the villagers he was eaten by lions when they ask of his whereabouts. The general arrives, and Nabulungi is ready to submit to him, telling the villagers that the stories Cunningham told them are untrue. To her shock, they respond that they have always known that the stories were metaphors rather than the literal truth. Cunningham returns, making everyone believe that he had “risen” after being eaten by lions. Price and Cunningham then drive the general away, telling him he can’t hurt the “undead”, and threaten to use the power of Christ to turn him into a lesbian. The missionaries are set to depart when Price suggests to them that since they came to the village to help people, they can still do so even with their mission officially terminated. Price rallies the Mormons and the Ugandans to work together to make this their paradise because, after all, they are all Latter-Day Saints. Later, the newly minted Ugandan elders (including the newly converted general) go door to door (or rather mud hut to mud hut) to evangelize “The Book of Arnold.” (“Tomorrow Is a Latter Day”/”Hello! (Reprise)”/”Finale”).[1]

 

EUGENE O'NEILL THEATRE - NEW YORK, NY
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