If you’ve been following me on Twitter you know that last Friday night the wife and I took in The Book of Mormon on Broadway.
The Book of Mormon is the hottest show on Broadway. Tickets are sold out well into 2012, which means if you want to go you will probably have to pay well in excess of the tickets’ face value. But should you?
The Plot. Two Mormon missionaries (Elders Price and Cunningham) are sent to Uganda to convert the locals. Price, an overachiever, is disappointed because he had his heart set on Disney-based Orlando, but he is determined to be successful in Uganda. Price, however, soon becomes disillusioned and bails out. Unknown to Price, the locals are ready to be baptized as Mormons and head to Salt Lake City. This leaves their Mormon indoctrination to Elder Cunningham. Cunningham improvises, making up new stories about Mormonism he thinks the locals will find more appealing, you know, like Joseph Smith did with Christianity. The village is converted, but when Mormon higher-ups arrive they are shocked to find their religion perverted by Cunningham’s bizarre fantasy.
The Music. The music is fantastic and funny. Here’s an example: the song, I Believe, sung by lead actor Andrew Rannells. The song comes after Elder Price questions his Mormon faith and is reaffirming what he believes. The music is dramatic and the words, “I believe,” are sung with conviction, but they are followed by quirky Mormon beliefs like ” . . . [God’s] plan involves me getting my own planet,” ” . . . in 1978 God changed his mind about black people,” and “the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.” All the songs are memorable; most are funny.
The Message. Some have wrongly contended The Book of Mormon is a critique of organized religion in general.To the contrary, the satire in TBOM is pointed and specific. There are references Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, but it is not satirized. The message is simple: Mormonism is a religion made up by a man with an active imagination who told people what the wanted they wanted to hear, like that they can be a god, have their own harem and rule their own planet . . . unless, of course, you are black or a woman.
The Controversy. TBOM is controversial. Even though Christianity is not the target, some parts are outright offensive. Seeing Jesus portrayed in a comedy, even though it is the Mormon Jesus, is unsettling, as is hearing the Ugandans singing in their native language, “F— You God.” Creating a context to incite laughter at people who are cursing God is like inciting laughter at someone with AIDS (which TBOM does as well). It’s manipulative and twisted.
Should You See It? TBOM is not for children. So forget that. I’m glad I saw it though. I would recommend TBOM to some of my Christian friends, but not to others. It was brilliantly performed, entertaining and funny. At points I laughed so hard cried. It was also a remarkably accurate portrayal of Mormonism, but it was equally offensive.
The Takeaway. TBOM is an otherwise taboo theme in an entertaining wrapper. Imagine what Christians could do with a powerful musical containing a positive theme. Unfortunately, Christians are not very good at being subtle. We produce Left Behind instead of To Kill A Mockingbird or Chariots of Fire. People will swallow presuppositions in an entertaining wrapper. I do believe that, even though I don’t believe the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri. GS