The Book of Mormon
Trey Parker, Robert Lopez & Matt Stone (Book, Music & Lyrics)
The perfect musical: What constitutes such a thing? Soaring music that people are humming as they leave with some lyrics they are actually remembering and mouthing? Choreography that is letter-perfect and both traditional and up-to-the-moment current? A story that captivates as well as inspires? Rip-roaring comedy as well as moments of heart-touching sentiment? Characters that could be next-door neighbors and those so fantastical that it is hard to believe what you are seeing? Or how about a biting satire that knows few boundaries but also knows how to make fun without being bitter or mean?
As the hundreds of thousands know who have lined the streets and clogged the online markets across the country for tickets, The Book of Mormon satisfies all these criteria and more. From the creators of Avenue Q (Robert Lopez) and South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) has come perhaps the first true, classic musical of the 21st Century, one that should last generations. From the first moments of doorbells and smiling-faced boys in white shirts and black ties in Hello to the resounding and uplifting full-cast harmonies of the closing Tomorrow Is a Latter Day, this recounting of two young Mormons’ mission to bring their naïve optimism and faith to the wilds of Uganda plagued by AIDS, warlords, poverty, and famine is full of fun, shock, heart, and damn good music. First-time goers will find it hard not to shudder wide-eyed at some of the references about God, female genitalia, and other body functions and parts (including those of Jesus). At the same time, they will surely soon be singing along in their heads the irreverent tunes and smiling at the joy, exuberance, and innocence in which the songs are delivered. The journey our Mormon boys take in discovering the differences between dogma and faith, saving and helping, and selfishness and selflessness become lessons for us all amidst the hilarity and spectacle. In the end, paradise becomes not somewhere on a distant Mormon planet but something the boys and their new Ugandan friends create themselves in the steamy jungle; and we are all inspired.
To a person, everyone in this SHN touring cast is outstanding in every note delivered, line uttered, and step danced. It cannot get much better in live theatre than Elder Price’s (blue-eyed, angelic Billy Harrigan Tighe) I Believe or the native young girl Nabulungi’s heartfelt dream of a paradise called Sal Tslay Ka Siti (Salt Lake City). The Baptize Me duet between the lovable Elder Cunningham (who has never bothered to read the real Book of Mormon and instead makes up its stories and teachings full of Ewoks and frogs) and Nabulungi (daughter of the local, village leader) comes with many double meanings between religion and sex and is sung with full conviction and tenderness. The celebratory number I Am Africa brings the Mormon boys and the ravaged villagers together to declare in swelling harmonies their oneness with each other and with the mother continent. Time and again, this cast rises to stellar levels in ones, twos, and ensembles to sing and sell the brilliant lyrics and memorable tunes of MessieursParker, Lopez, and Stone.
For any musical buff, further delight comes in discerning the many past musicals whose songs and lyrics are comically and admirably referenced. From The King and I to The Wizard of Oz to Evita, musicals are mimicked with tongue-in-cheek and winks of the eye.
Having seen the original cast on Broadway, I was both excited and skeptical in seeing this third-time-to-town touring show in SF; but I could not have been more delighted and elated in reacquainting myself with The Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon continues at the Orpheum Theatre through June 27.