Broadway: The Book of Mormon in Australia, a review
The show is not new, but it was new to me last night. Reviewing a long-established musical is a bit unnecessary for many, but I like to ponder what I saw and heard, and to share it with you, my faithful followers. Some spoilers are here, but since the play has been out for so long, I feel the liberty. So here goes.
The themes included truth-telling vs lying, Americana (represented in Salt Lake City and Orlando, Florida) vs the rest of the world, and religion itself, of course. The dynamics of working and living life together plays out as does humility as a positive human trait. So much in a song-and-dance extravaganza.
Let's unpack this.
Listen to these lines from the opening song. While everyone is ringing doorbells and trying to wiggle their way into people's homes, Arnold Cunningham, a missionary trainee, is being direct:
"Hello, would you like to change religions?
I have a free book written by Jesus"
All a leader of the missionaries quickly replies with:
"No, no, Elder Cunningham
That's not how we do it
You're making things up again
Just stick to the approved dialogue
Elders, show him"
There is an approved method of everything, how to eat, where to go, with whom or not with whom to go, what to do when you are tempted, or when you have feelings at all. And Arnold is an out-of-the-box character who looks more like Lumpy Rutherford or Milhouse. He's just not the same as the others. They are all neat and tidy, trim and capable; he's anything but that.
They are so much the same, they sing, "Our shirts are clean and pressed,
And our haircuts are precise!" Even their harmonies are tight.
The theme of truth-telling plays out throughout the show as in the song, "Turn it off", ELDER MCKINLEY sings, "Being gay is bad, but lying is worse,
So just realize you have a curable curse,
And turn it off! (Turn it off, turn it off!)"
And when Joseph Smith, founder of the religion, is dying in the historical flashback, he sings, "Oh, God... why are you letting me die?
Without having me Show people the plates?
They’ll have no proof I was
Telling the truth or not.
They’ll have to believe it just...
Oh! I guess thats kinda what you
Were going for...."
When Arnold begins to give the Ugandan villagers hope by telling them untruths from his own creativity, we hear this song,
"CUNNINGHAM: And lo, the Lord said unto the Nephites:
"I know you're really depressed, what with all your... AIDS,
and everything... but there is an answer in Christ."
You see? This book CAN help us!
I just told a lie.
No, I didnt LIE...
I just used my imagination...
And it worked!
You're making things up again, Arnold"
And Arnold's answer, as he mans up to his father, is, "But it worked, dad!"
Then later MORONI, MORMON, SMITH, DAD, and HOBBITS all say to Arnold,
"You're making things up again, Arnold."
America as the Messianic hope
The theme of America as the Messianic hope for the Ugandans and for the religion world of the 19th century is played out often. Smith is introduced as the All-American prophet. The phrase "All-American" may be lost on Aussies, but is a collegiate one in the US, emphasising the ivy-league, Ralph Lauren-wearing, preppie look which the Mormons evidence.
Villager Nabalungi sings, "Now salvation has a name--
Sal Tlay Ka Siti" Salt Lake City. If there's going to be a salvific venue for the New Jerusalem, it ought not be in the biblical locations chosen by the Lord, but one chosen by ...um... Joseph Smith Moroni, and Brigham Young. And it ought to be in the US of A. By the way, Nikki M. James originated this role on Broadway in 2011 and she is here in Sydney to play it. It's perfect for her; no wonder she won the Tony for her role.
Price sings about his own faith, and it's based of course, in the USA, as he sings, "That Jesus has his own planet as well. And I believe That the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri." (More on the Garden of Eden. Oy.)
Character trait: Humility
Pride vs Humility has its theme revealed over and over.
Elder Price, another 19-year-old on mission to Uganda sings, "And set that worlds people free! And we can do it together, You and me-
But mostly me!
You and me-but mostly me, Are gonna change the world forever.
Cause I can do most anything!"
Kevin Price is everyone's favourite in the training class at the mission, and Kevin is fairly sure that God will give him his heart's desire. To go to Orlando, which ends up looking like "Mormon Hell" in a dramatic song-and-dance after interval.
Religion is mocked
Religious propriety is rudely dispelled from the fourth song "Hasa Diga Eebowai" which is as rude a phrase to say to God as anything you might imagine. It's a way of dealing with life's troubles there in the village in rural Uganda, and sets the opposite pole if you will, the yang, against which the yin of Mormonism is trying to dominate and win to its side. Religion is unnecessary for the tribe as there is death, and AIDS and a horrible war-lord, starvation in the setting. What good would the book of Mormon bring to this hopeless community?
This song is a typical South Park 'answer' to the 1994 movie, Lion King (which is often mentioned)'s answer to life's troubles, with the Swahili "Hakuna matata" (No worries). Watch and remember and sing along here.
In the historical introduction of Mormonism, with a bit of Broadway license, they sing, "You all know the Bible Is made of Testaments Old and New.
You’ve been told its just those two parts,
Or only one, if you're a Jew." (This was cute for us Jews in the audience who understand that the Tenach, called the Holy Scriptures is the one Christians call the "Old")"But what if I were to tell you
Theres a FRESH third part out there?
That was found by a HIP new prophet
Who had a little...
Donny Osmond flair?" (Donny is a Mormon)
BTW, on the right is Seth McFarlane, and he looked so much like Donny, I just had to put his photo in this blog.
More anti-religion is evident in the commentary on the call of Joseph Smith in Rochester, New York, in 1823 or so, as he is told to go and dig up the golden plates with the prophetic information. Arnold says, "Wow, God says go to you backyard and start digging, that makes PERFECT SENSE!" which of course, means it makes no sense. Of course, we find out later that Arnold has never read the book at all, and will end up making up an entire different religion and information about how to handle diseases, bullies, and history itself.
I had heard that Mormons considered themselves true Jews, and wasn't until I heard the song about the All-American Prophet,
"We were Jews who met with Christ,
But we were...
But don't let anybody see these plates Except for you...
They are only for you to see...Even if people ask you to show
The plates to them, DONT.
Just copy them onto normal paper.
Even thought this might make them
Question if the plates are real, or not,
This is sort of what God is going for...."
Yes, the lyricists Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone were going for mockery and sacrilegious comedy and they knocked it out of the park.
Community is sacred
Whether it's the Ugandans, who all turn into Mormons or who reject Mormonism, they do things together. They starve together and they hope together. The Mormon missionaries have to live as tandems for two years and upon failing to do so, Kevin Price is sent in his dream to Spooky Mormon Hell. What is the cause? He didn't stay with Arnold.
"I left my mission companion
And who else is in this hell? Genghis Khan, Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler, and OJ-defender Johnnie Cochran!
Against all the evil these four committed, ELDER PRICE sings, "You think that's bad?
I broke rule seventy-two!" (which is about abandoning your companion)
Turning "I am" to "We are" is what community requires, and the song "I am Africa" does just that.
"I am Africa...
With the strength of the cheetah,
My native voice will ring...
We are Africa!
We are the heartbeat of Africa!"
And their final hymn sings, "I am a latter day saint,
along with all my town
we always stick together come one more"
I suppose the real issue is HOPE which "Tomorrow is a latter day" shouts.
"We'll be here for each other every step of the way
and make a latter day tomorrow (han-a-hay-yah)
Americans are ready for the cure for AIDS
but they're saving it for a latter day,
tomorrow is a latter day."
1) The themes of truth telling, hope, community and humility all speak to me, and I applaud them. Walking away from the theatre and pondering such good philosophical ideas is a plus for me in judging an experience.
2) America being the focus of the religion is classic Americana. I grew up in the USA and geocentricism is a national pastime to many. Triumphalism is often an American characteristic. And at times feeling like winners makes sense since the US helped win World Wars 1 and 2, along with the Cold War and has maintained world dominance in economics, at least, so they say. But being smug and triumphalistic is inconsistent with the humility incumbent on true religion.
3) The mockery of religion is timeless and an easy punch. Among the Broadway faithful, ridiculing Christianity is especially tiring. Sacrilege is the style of the South Park writers, and a bit wearying.for me as one of their non-disciples. There were times when a song finished and the crowd applauded. I was torn sometimes as the song was antithetical to my personal views (but I did appreciate the music and the dancing.)
4) Honestly the true hope, which really is available to all people, is found in Jesus the Messiah, not in the Mormon church. And I'm so glad that the community of those who know the Lord is growing each day, whether in Uganda, here in Australia, or in Rochester, New York.
Maybe tomorrow will be the latter day, or the last day, but whenever the Lord Jesus returns to set up His kingdom, the location will not be in Utah, nor in Sydney, but will be in Jerusalem. In that day, the Lord will be One and His name One.
Until then, God can save Mormons, and Jews, Chinese and anyone, including you! How? By faith in the atoning work of Jesus, as He died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. We encourage you to profess faith in Him. Not Moroni, not Joseph Smith, but Jesus, who would never call you biological names. Call on Him, and you will be saved.