When a stage musical is as decorated as Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Book of Mormon, watching it can be tainted by overblown expectations, or it can be too readily accepted as a success due to known popular opinion. Book of Mormon is as every bit as good as it claims to be. And more.
Musical theatre done competently can delight, devastate and enthral all in equal measure. It can touch the most private corners of your very soul. Great musicals such as Les Misérables or West Side Story, with their swelling scores and breathtaking melodies, reach inside you and provoke emotion that other mediums can only hope to achieve. The danger that Book of Mormon had with his controversies, profanities and politicised views was that the drama would be purely superficial and lacking the depth that great musicals pertain; mocking with no heart. However this had it all. Not just songs but big show tunes that instantly resonated with the audience, jokes that were original and hilarious, characters that were likable and, as expected from Parker and Stone, it delivered an overall message that was insightful and philosophical.
There’s no doubt that Mormonism is firmly in the firing line. The history of the faith is pulled apart, put back together again and then pulled apart some more. However the Mormons are the hero’s of the story. The subject is one held close to Parker and Stone’s hearts; a subject examined more than once on their cult show South Park, and as such, the musical had an air of a big brother picking on a little brother, poking fun but saying you are kind of OK, you believe what you want. Questions of metaphors in religion, the breadth of interpretation and spirituality as a whole sandwich the, at times, shocking humour, but the message by the close is clear; religion and faith are personal and, ultimately, it’s whatever works for you. The inclusion of Mormon advertising in the programme demonstrates that even the Mormons can see the funny side.
On the surface, Parker and Stone are crass, shocking and scathing – lyrics such as “maggots in my scrotum” and “we all have aids” make this undeniable, yet they approach their subject with an affection that alludes to the success that Book of Mormon has had with the masses. It has a phenomenal score, genius choreography, inspired casting and is masterfully directed. Book of Mormon has a great quality that reminds you of all yet is nothing like any other. You must see this while you can.