There's a definite possibility that I was the only actual returned missionary in the Eugene O'Neill Theatre for a recent performance of the hit Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, a show all about Mormon missionaries. Still, it's obvious that Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez have done their homework. They're surprisingly adept at capturing the realities of being a Mormon missionary, particularly since none of them have been on a mission. Sure, they get a bunch of stuff wrong. The way they represent the Missionary Training Center (MTC) is off by at least a mile but nonetheless hysterically funny. The stuff they get right, they get really right. As a return missionary, there a few moments that were freakishly accurate.
The show-stopping song, Turn It Off, about that "nifty Mormon trick" of ignoring troubling issues and putting on a happy face certainly rang true for me. Or how about Scary Mormon Hell Dream. This satanic, chorus-line-inspired extravaganza is a riotous good time. My favorite moment? The dancing coffee cups as a temptation. Brilliant.
Which brings me to a few ideas raised by this show. First, the calculated offensiveness of the show. This is a musical designed to push buttons. A lot of Mormons might be upset by the flippant way the creators treated their beliefs. But skewering Mormons is just the beginning. The Book of Mormon takes on everything from AIDS to female circumcision (I'm pretty sure this is the only musical that uses the word clitoris on multiple occasions) with a South-Park willingness to offend. And while it's brilliant today, I wonder if this show will be as tolerable in the future. I can imagine a time when some of the ideas expressed in this show won't be acceptable to a more politically-correct audience. Although I was surprised at how relevant a sexist musical like How to Succeed in Business is in our modern world.
On the positive side, it's obvious that Parker, Stone, and Lopez love Broadway. With toasts to Rodgers and Hammerstein and The Lion King, even the work of early musical-theater geniuses like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, this show is a little love letter to the Great White Way.
I also have to note how spectacularly The Book of Mormon communicates the style of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. I approach most things with a eye toward visual art. I appreciate artists that are informed by history, but create new and exciting work with an identifiable style. Stone and Parker have accomplished that difficult trick.
In the end, this is a story about faith. About believing in something bigger than ourselves. And while The Book of Mormon may have a riotous good time at the expense of Mormons, it also reminds us that people who believe in things that might seem incredible, often accomplish miracles. Maybe that's why it's so delightful.