April 18, 2013

"Hello!" Mormon Invasion

             It’s occupying our newspapers. It’s lining our tube station walls. It’s causing a buzz around London, but its subjects would much rather be ringing our doorbells. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s latest endeavor takes shape in the form of The Book of Mormon, a wryly executed but highly controversial musical. Then again, what more can you expect from the creators of South Park?

             I must interject at this point and advise you to stay clear of this musical if you are highly religious, easily offended, or intolerant of satirical humor. After all, Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Genghis Khan, Johnnie Cochran, Jesus Christ, and the Devil make an appearance in the same scene. The Book of Mormonfollows Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and Elder Cunningham’s (Jared Gertner) mission trip to Uganda and in the process, educates the audience on the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Well, more or less.

             Mormonism is the religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement and branches away from Protestantism. Founded by Joseph Smith Jr. in the 1820s, today it is recognized as the expression of his teachings. Brigham Young was Smith’s successor and founded Salt Lake City, Utah, the state in which Mormonism is most prominent. Mormons believe in the Bible, along with the Book of Mormon. As far as accuracy goes, The Book of Mormon is not to be taken as law, but rather as an amusing distorted commentary.

             The Princes of Wales Theatre held preview performances of The Book of Mormon from February 25th until the show’s official opening night in London on March 21st. Ticket availabilities for up-and-coming shows are typically limited due to popularity, but bookings after the middle of July are said to be more promising. The Book of Mormon racked up 2,107,972 pounds worth of tickets on opening day, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that tickets are becoming harder and harder to obtain.

             I went into The Book of Mormon not knowing what to expect, but it worked in my favor. The show has been marked with mixed reviews by critics, but purposefully unaware of the praises and criticisms, I wanted to formulate my own opinion. It was interesting to observe the reactions around me whilst the musical progressed. There were moments of shock horror, brash in-your-face stereotypes, and scenes that made everyone gasp, including me. However, I was hard pressed to find a solemn face when Creel flashed one of his many toothy grins directly at the audience. My friend and I couldn’t have had better seat placements sitting at the forefront of the action in the dress circle. The stage was directly at our disposal, central and ever changing in dynamic scene after dynamic scene.

              I was laughing so much I was practically splitting my sides crying. Please don’t mistake this to think that I look down upon Mormons, because the show experience is entirely subjective and tongue-in-cheek. What tickles my sense of humor might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The Book of Mormon should be recognized, even if only for its ridiculously catchy soundtrack. In fact, it is one of the catchiest I have heard ever produced from a musical. The title of this article is in reference to the opening song, “Hello!,” which details the way Mormons approach people in an attempt to covert them to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Frankly, I felt a little guilty for humming most of the songs after the show and I had to restrain myself from publicly singing the lyrics.

             More than anything, The Book of Mormon spreads a message of belief, not of hate or ridicule. That’s something everyone can relate to and Creel and Gertner share just the loveable on-stage relationship necessary to fuel this message.

             How have the Mormons reacted, you might be wondering? In my opinion, I think they’ve embraced the publicity in a sly marketing scheme. The Book of Mormon musical program actually features three advertisements for the Book of Mormon, with captions such as “You’ve seen the show, now read the book.” Alongside The Book of Mormon posters on the tube station walls, posters for the Book of Mormon now fill equal mounting space. In response to the possibility of a backlash from the Mormon community, Parker commented, “They’re way too friendly and happy,” and Stone added, “They kill you with kindness.” Only time will tell. 

             View The Book of Mormon ticket listings and news here and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ official website that was provided to me by The Book of Mormon musical program here.

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