Sunday, October 21, 2012
The Book of Mormon (Pantages, Los Angeles)
October 21, 2012
I knew this musical was going to be a satire about the religion of the Mormons. Knowing that this was written by the makers of "South Park" already prepares you somehow how scandalous the material is going to be. I knew the subject matter of the play will make it difficult to for it to see the light in very conservative and onion-skinned Manila. I felt sure that if I wanted to see it (this is after all a multiple Tony Award-winning musical), the only way that I was going to see would be it in the States.
It was lucky that this show is having a run at the historic Pantages Theater just when I was going to Los Angeles for a high school reunion. Schedules were not so clear yet so we could not buy tickets in advance. On the only possible day I could watch which was October 13, the matinee show was at 2 pm. My cousins brought me to the Pantages Theater about 2 hours before the show to join the lottery for which we could buy tickets for the show for only $25 each, compared to the expensive $120-$180 original prices. As luck would have it, my cousin Ted was one of the 13 lucky ballots drawn! When we got to enter the theater at 2pm, we discovered that the seats raffled out were actually on the very front row! It was very exciting as I have never seen a musical from the very front row, much less in a famous theater like the Pantages.
The show itself started nicely enough, with a clean catchy tune called "Hello" where the new Mormon missionaries were introducing themselves. The lead character is the ambitious over-achiever Elder Kevin Price (Gavin Creel), who was disappointed that he was paired with the incompetent nerd and uncontrollable liar Elder Arnold Cunningham (Jon Bass). Price was even more shocked when they get assigned to far-off Uganda, instead of his original choice of Orlando, Florida.
When the two reach Uganda and see the sorry state of the people there, living under the constant persecution of a General Butt-F*****-Naked (Derrick Williams), Price gets more and more disillusioned with his mission, eventually requesting for a transfer. While the idealistic Cunningham, inspired by the lovely Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware), had to resort to unconventional means to get his message of conversion across, especially since he has not even read the "Book of Mormon" himself!
From this simple premise arises one of the most politically-incorrect yet optimistic and fun musicals ever written. There was something said or done in each scene which can offend in either religious or racial contexts. The name of the general alone lets you know that this show will be peppered by frank profanity and sexual references.
However, the music is so easily accessible, catchy and even vaguely familiar so that all of the very naughty references could actually be excused somehow (by most people, that is). As cute as the "Hakuna Matata"-like song "Hasa Diga Eebowai" sounds, its English translation is blasphemous, and can really be offensive to less tolerant people. My personal favorite part of the show was the "Uncle Tom's Cabin"-like presentation by the Ugandan tribesmen of the Mormon teachings as taught to them by Elder Arnold Cunningham. Very silly and outright hilarious!
A very controversial show like this can only be conceived, produced, performed and succeed in the USA, it seems. The totally irreverent sense of humor may not be taken well anywhere else. Remember, this is a product of Trey Parker, Matt Stone and their gang. You expect them to push the boundaries of comedy musical theater, and "The Book of Mormon" definitely does. Take the whole experience as good-natured friendly ribbing only, and you will certainly have a LOL-rollicking good time! This is NOT something to take too seriously. Even the Mormon Church itself did not, even taking out ads in the Playbill, declaring "the book is always better." Now that is what I call positive action, taking full advantage of this show's immense popularity to promote their religion further, and that is playing it smart.