Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Book of Mormon --my take

i tried to find a stock photo with the dancing Starkbucks cups visible but couldn't..

My parents have been  taking my brother and me to musicals since we were toddlers. Some were community theatre or university productions. When the local university or one of the community theatres in the area needed a quick last-minute fill-in my mom was called into service several times because the idea of understudies actually learning lines in both university productions and community theatrehas gone the way of the wooly mammoth. *  My mom had played many of the roles in her pre-mother days, knows all the songs whether or not she played the roles, and memorizes lines with unnatural ease.  I've seen my mother play both Hodel and Golda in Fiddler on the Roof, Rosie in Bye, Bye, Birdie (that was a bit of a stretch; even with a temporary dark rinse in her hair, my mom doesn't exactly look like a Latina, though she somehow managed to pull it off), Fiona in Brigadoon, Rizzo in Grease,  Maggie in A Chorus Line, Rose in Meet Me in St. Louis, Mary Magdalene in Jesus  Christ Superstar, and, of course, Maria in The Sound of Music. There may have been more with the multiple community theatres in the area in which we lived at the time, and the two university musical productions per year. Almost all were one- or two-time fill-in performances, but in a couple she did the complete run. 

I've even filled in at the last minute in two stage roles, in one case against my better judgment and in the other case over my objections, due to one case of a temperamental actress walking off the set two days before opening night and one case of chicken pox, I''ve portrayed Chava from Fiddler on the Roof and the title role in Annie. I'm due to fill in for three nights in a local production of Bye Bye Birdie as Kim McAfee, which is a part I've sort of wanted to play, though I don't have a deep and burning desire to be on stage. I'm better suited to the orchestra pit.

In any even, I've had my fair share of exposure to musical theatre. I've sat through more than my share of musicals, including three (Wicked,  Les Miserrables, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) on broadway. I've seen enough to know what I like.

I tend to grade musicals on the singing and the quality of the songs. The acting is incidental to me, and has to stand out in a big way to make much of an impact. The dialogue is secondary. If the actors can sing well and get through the choreography withut tripping over their feet, i consider the performance  as well as the musical itself a success. i'm not hard to please in that regard. 

The Book of Mormon was very different for me in that regard. it was all about the dialogue for me. The dialogue was brilliantly written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.  The songs were catchy, apropos, and, in this case by the touring cast, quite well-performed. i felt that the # 1--billed lead, Elder Price, was outshone in today's touring performance by the actor portraying the geeky Elder Cunningham, especially vocally.  Such was clearly not intended to be the case, and I would surmise that in the Broadway version, the Elder Price character earns his top billing. The female  lead  (I cannot recall the actual character's name, as Elder Cunnigham continually mangled it, eventually calling her Neutrogena)  was a most sympathetic character, played by an actress with powerful yet incredibly dolce voice. 

My favorite parts were "The Scary Mormon Hell Dream,"  **  (the larger-than-life dancing Starbucks cups were a touch of genius, as were the cameos) by actors pretending to be Genghis Kahn, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Adolf Hitler)  and the "I Delieve'" song parodying actual Latter-Day Saint beliefs ("I believe God changed his mind about blacks in 1978") and the awkward moment when Elder Cunnigham read
to the tribal African people from the actual Book of Mormon of how the wicked Lamanites were cursed for their wicked ways by having their skin turned from "white and delightsome" to dark. My single favorite line from the play was, "Salt Lake City isn't an actual place. it's an idea -- a metaphor."

A person watching  could pick out in the audience the actual Mormons-at-one-time by their laughter in anticipation of the punch lines of the jokes, as it was clear to the insiders what was coming. My dad didn't really count in this regard, as I'm pretty sure he started laughing at the onset of  the opening scene and never stopped until well after the final curtain call.  I sat next to my cousin Josh, who served a mission  in Chile but had to return to the U. S. early because of an intestinal ailment that took several feet of his small intestine and very nearly took his life. I was concerned that the plot might be too close to home to be amusing to him to be amusing, but it wasn't; he was among those laughing before the punch lines were delivered.

Half-Mormon that I am, I was among those in on the most inside of the jokes. To me it sometimes seemed as though the play was written for ex-Mormons and half-Mormons such as myself, and wondered if the rest of the audience would get it, but they apparently did. There cannot be that many exmormons and half-Mormons in and around Fresno, and the performance received a standing ovation.

An acquaintance told me that he would take me to see the production on Broadway if we were ever in The Big Apple at the same time.  while i will take him up on the offer if the opportunity  presents itself, I know that if were it to happen, during the baudier scenes, the redness of my face would show even in the darkness of the theatre. (I was extremely grateful to have been seated an entire level away from my father).  The same would be doubly true of the girl who would likely accompany us,  who has led a life even more sheltered than mine has been.

On my way to my seat inside the theatre, i noticed a man wearing a t-shirt bearing the rather non sequitur sentence: "I've got maggots in my scrotum."  The sentence is no longer non sequitur to me.  All things considered, it was the funniest thing I've ever seen in my entire life.

*I would have used the words curelom and cumom in place of wooly mammoth, but only the Mormons, curreny, ex, or half, wuld have had any idea about what I was talking.

**Even my dad, who was dragged into Mormonism at the ager of abiut twelve by his parents' conversion aand was never a total believer though he served a two-year mission to Argentina, tells of having experienced 'The Scary Mormon Hell Dream" more than once.

As a postscript, i would like to add that I think the LDS Church has publicly handled the production of The Book of Mormon in a more or less classy manner. i know that many oracticing latter-day saints as individuals took tremendous offense, but the church itself tried to make the best of what  could have been a bad situation by taking out adds in the program and even by positioning actual Mormon missionaries at the exit doors, offering free copies of the actual Book of Mormon to any who would take them, had the play exposed the temple ceremony, for example, Mormons would have had a right to be affronted. such was not the case, however.  we as members of whatever religions or non-religions we have chosen would do well to be a bit more self-deprecating in regard to our beliefs except perhaps when the most sacred aspects of our beliefs have been profaned.


  1. Since my mother taught ballet at Joulliard's School of Performing Arts, she loved musicals more than any other movies. She had taught some of the stars in them ballet. At age 20 I had a Jewish girlfriend. She performed in a lot of musicals and was a great singer and dancer. They may have been sponsored by the JYC (Jewish Youth Center) that we both went to.

    1. I wish there were more centers like the JYC for young people who might otherwise occupy themselves with far less productive pursuits.

  2. Sounds like you really had fun!

    1. yep. It was a blast. just getting to see the people I sat next to for hours each day for nine months in and of itself was a treat even without the musical.

      the party has finally wound down, but I can't sleep, which is OK since I'm not thre one driving home.

      Soon it's back to nanny by day and Kim Mcafee by night, but just for two rehearsals and two performances. I'm usually a fast study. I hope such is true in this case.

  3. Glad you enjoyed it. I've seen it twice. First right after it opened on B'way. The then unknown cast was still a bit stunned by the plays success and were tearing up during the standing ovation. The line "ancient Jews built ships and sailed to America" brought the house down and there were some really cute pokes at Judaism - the shadow of a fiddler on the roof popped into the backdrop and played a couple notes when Elder Price sang "if you're a Jew" in "All American Prophet."

    Then when I saw it again in San Francisco the fiddler wasn't there. But there were more gay jokes and the choreography was hilariously gay.

    1. No fiddler this time, which I would have appreciated. The choreography was quite gay ib places in this production, too.
      My brother;s favorite parts was when Elder Price was rolled in on the abdominal gurney with the xray of his rectum clear displaying the title of the Book of Mormon.My dad thought it might also be a subtle play on words, as in Book of mormon = B.M., but by dad has an active imagination.