Monday, March 17, 2014

The Book of Mormon: A Review

The danger in seeing a Broadway show for the first time, after it has been around for a while and garnered critical acclaim, boffo box office and a Tony™ award, is that one can go into it with unrealistically high expectations only to be a bit disappointed.

My reaction to "Wicked" after finally seeing it last year was, "It was okay."

The national touring company of "The Book of Mormon" is running it's second lap around the country and is currently at The Pantages theater, in Hollywood.

And Mrs. Blog and I attended last night.

Being the brainchild of "South Park's" Trey Parker and Matt Stone, I had a pretty good idea of the expectations I should have.

Hyper-kinetic, over-the-top performances. Cartoonish voices that border on shrieky, sunny, or in the case of a few male African characters, baritone to bass. Dick jokes. Sets that managed to be minimalist and spectacular at the same time. Vagina jokes.
Jesus and Satan. Diarrhea jokes. Hitler, Jeffery Dahmer and Johnny Cochran. Vulgar language. Pop culture gags. Gay jokes. And a no-holds-barred, "not a fucking thing is sacred" attitude.

That is what I expected.

And "The Book of Mormon" (henceforth referred to as "BofM,") delivered and then some.

Parker and Stone are masters at poking at the absurdities and hypocrisies of religion in general and the fringier edges, specifically.

A few years back, Parker and Stone incurred the wrath of the Scientologists when they savaged the cult on an episode of "South Park." They responded to the Scientology fatwa by doing what they do best. They doubled down in later episodes.

"BofM's" satirical depiction of The Church of Latter Day Saints is different.

Oh, they pound on the absurdities. Israelites boating to and taking residence in the ancient, future United States. Jesus dropping by during the three days between his crucifixion and resurrection. Magic underwear. And The Blog's personal favorite. The gold plates that no one has ever actually seen.

But, the skewering that "BofM" gives the LDS had a gentler tone than Stone and Parker gave Scientology.

It was almost affectionate.

Now, I am not a Mormon. So, it is not my place to guess the extent that the LDS church may or may not be offended by the shenanigans. But, I'm thinking, not very.

Either Mormons have more of a sense of humor than we might imagine...

Or else, they are just pragmatic.

The Church of Latter Day Saints took out not one, but four full page ads in the "BofM" Playbill, along the lines of, "You have seen the play. Now read the book!" and, "The book is always better!" 

Pretty smooth, if you ask me. (Or, factoring in a millionaire, failed presidential candidate, maybe the word I am looking for is "opportunistic.")

To no one's surprise, (mostly because we are warned on the ticket itself,) the language is "explicit" and the humor is scatological. If that bothers you, you should probably steer clear. But, then, if that bothers you, you should probably steer clear of this blog as well.

In one of Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide" novels, we are told that in every culture on every planet in the universe, with the exception of Earth, the word "Belgium" is considered the most obscene word in every language. An intergalactic filmmaker receives the intergalactic equivalent of The Oscar™ for "The Most Gratuitous Use of the Word Belgium."

"BofM" won a Tony™ for "Best Musical" a few years back. If the Tony™ awards had had a category for "The Most Gratuitous Use of the Word Fuck," they would have won that, too.

Summarizing the show's plot would be a Herculean effort. So, I won't.

I'll send you on over to Wikipedia and let them do the heavy lifting.

Being a Broadway comedy set in Africa..

                                                           "Lion King" jokes abound.

One of the great things about live theater, there is always room for topical humor.

A running gag, that I assume has been in the play from the start, is one character's inability to pronounce the name of the beautiful African ingenue...


Over the course of the show, he calls her "Jon Bon Jovi," "Neutrogena," etc.

But, this is a gag that has waited, for over three years, for John Travolta to provide the final punchline.

                                                                      (If you get it.)

One casting surprise...

One of the lead roles, the part of "Elder Price," is played by David Larson, who originated the role of "Tunny" in the original Broadway cast of "Green Day's American Idiot."

                                                            With costar, Cody Strand.

Your Uncle PC had the pleasure of applying guy-liner and painting tattoos on David for a television appearance a couple of years ago.

While the entire cast of "BofM" was astonishingly good, I want to single David out.

Going from "A.I.'s" bored, suburban, slacker punk to "BofM's" ambitious, energetic, missionary demonstrates the range of a consummate actor.

Which brings us to the music.

And, this is where I am ambivalent and confused.

Lyrics by Stone and Parker, music by Robert Lopez ("Avenue Q" and Disney's "Frozen...")

Is energetic and fun. Virtually every song is a show-stopper.

But, the minute I left the theater, I could not have hummed a single bar if a gun was held to my head.

Maybe if I had the album on my iPod™ it would be different.

But, no.

In fact, that applies to the whole show.

I enjoyed the hell out of it while it was happening. And at a run time of over two hours (plus intermission,) I certainly got my money's worth.

But, like the newspaper comics page, or a piece of chewing gum...

Or an episode of "South Park..."

As enjoyable as it was in the moment, as soon as it was over...

It was gone.

Mental masturbation, if you will.

An entertaining trifle, if you prefer.

"BofM" is playing at The Pantages until mid-May with a later run in Costa Mesa. It's likely coming to a city near you, sometime soon.

The Blog recommends it. By all means, go see it if you get the chance. Just don't expect a lasting impression.

Traditionally, whenever this Blog reviews a show at The Pantages, he devotes  a couple of sentences to complain about the shitty sound at that theater.

Something different, tonight.

The sound engineer for "BofM" proved, once and for all, that the problem isn't the theater. The theater's acoustics were perfect. The sound was crystal clear. Major props to the "BofM" audio department for getting it right! 

One bit of trivia...

The character of the Ugandan warlord, "General Butt Fuck Naked," was based on a real person. (The Wikipedia entry might address this, but I didn't read that far,)

General "Butt Naked" was a real person. A murderous, bloody, nasty, Liberian warlord who earned his nickname by going into battle... well... butt naked.

At one time, he was dubbed "The most evil man in the world."

Like his "BofH" doppelganger, he converted to Christianity and lived out the rest of his life as a missionary.

                                                      aka: Pastor Joshua Milton Blahyl

Because, truth is stranger than fiction.

Saint Patrick's Day is almost over.

The Blog would be remiss to not mention it.

I hope you had a good one.

In keeping with the Parker/Stone, "South Park" theme...

This feels appropriate.

                                                                     "You bastards!"

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