The Book of Mormon

Text by Zee Chang

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Wednesday night on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine, the front doors of Pantages Theatre are flooded by masses of people, fanning out on either side of the block. The young adults who allotted a portion of their meager student budgets to see The Book of Mormon can barely contain their excitement as they seat themselves next to wealthy couples dressed in cashmere turtlenecks. This is the one place where South Park enthusiasts rub shoulders with the high society theatergoers. The “South Park” fans attend for the promise of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s offensive humor, while the Broadway fans attend after reading the headlines announcing 9 Tony Award wins, including “Best Musical.” The crowd murmurs amongst themselves as they each eye the person sitting next to them, when a sudden, deafening blare of horns and trumpets cuts every conversation short. The lights fall and Jesus appears in a white, flowing robe adorned in LED lights.

The tone is set and the rest is history.

​The Book of Mormon is a miraculous slice of heaven on earth, written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Avenue Q composer, Robert Lopez. The musical features the journey of two young, Mormon missionaries; the overly eager Elder Price, and pudgy, compulsive liar, Elder Cunningham, embarking on their Mission to convert people outside of Salt Lake City to the Mormon faith. Instead of being assigned to Elder Price’s dream location of Orlando, Florida, they’re sent to a war-torn, disease-ridden village in Uganda, Africa where their seemingly invincible optimism and faith is dampened by the challenges of a Third World country. In order to defeat the oppressive, one-eyed warlord ruling over the village, the boys must unite the Ugandan villagers through the Mormon religion. Nothing is sacred as the humor pushes every boundary, covering religion, AIDS, and Westernized stereotypes of African culture. Underneath the offensive humor lies a sterling social commentary that in spite of religion’s hypocrisies and role as a dominant institution, religion can also form close communities that help people negotiate their challenging experiences. It is a rather tender ode to how religion can empower people when coping with their struggles.

Every aspect of the production has been perfected. Now in their second National Tour, the cast has been able to steep in the content of this amazing musical and their comical performance is completely intuitive. Our two lovable leads, played by David Larsen and Cody Jamison Strand, along with the rest of the cast, are astonishingly gifted individuals. They show every angle of their abilities from elaborate choreography to their flawless comedic timing and singing abilities. If there’s anything The Book of Mormon is not short of, it’s talent.

What really creates the magic is that the offensive humor is not just there for shock value, but also functions as a way to parody classic musical theater and the sheltered all-American point-of-view. Repeated references to The Lion King and Wicked are used as framework for this satire. Playing off these conventions, expectations are overturned within the story telling, creating an unpredictable, hilarious, and surprisingly touching work of art. The real issues are underscored, the comedy is uninhibited, and intellectuals’ jaws are dropping at Parker, Stone, and Lopez’s complete mastery over the medium.

By the end of the show, the regular theatergoers and the millennial crowd cheer alongside each other in an enthusiastic standing ovation as smiles are exchanged. Borders have come down and the audience is united by a single exceptional experience. Elder Price sang about wanting to do something incredible and he got his wish. On and off the stage, this was truly something incredible.

THE OBSESSION ISSUE

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