Book of Mormon
enthuses PDA crowd
South Park creators’ musical still a hit the third time around
By Byron Toben
Back in 1828, Vermont-born Joseph Smith claimed to have found some gold plates buried in upstate New York that led him to translate them into English and print the revelations as The Book of Mormon.
Fast-forward to 2011 and the producers of Broadway shows again found gold in the form of coin from this mega hit musical.
Never mind that the book and lyrics by South Park in-your-face TV series authors Trey Parker and Matt Stone involve many swear words and the irreverence that present day Latter Day Saints abjure.
The Mormon Church, apparently believing as PT Barnum reputedly exclaimed, “there is no such thing as bad publicity”, placed an ad in the program. The cheerful tunes by Robert Lopez went on to balance the politically incorrect language and the show won, wow, nine Tonys among other awards and nominations.
Hard to picture the original cast being much better than this cast of fourteen aided by an ensemble of sixteen and an orchestra of six.
After a long run on Broadway despite the all-time high of over $400 for top seats, there have been a number of touring companies in the US and elsewhere. Locally, the fine promoter Encana has brought a spirited version to Montreal, again, for the third time. Hard to picture the original cast being much better than this cast of fourteen aided by an ensemble of sixteen and an orchestra of six.
In the show, after a prologue of Joseph Smith making his find and talking to angels, the most famous such encounter since Joan of Arc, we see all the teenage boys decked out in black and white being assigned to preach the good word abroad. (Why the lads in this initiation, which even Mitt Romney underwent, are all called Elder is a mystery to me, but I once saw an Elder Younger on the 66 bus. Best smiley name since Sergeant Sargeant in Catch 22.)
They open with the winning number Hello, not the Adele hit, but cheerful countenances maintained despite doors being slammed as they ring bells to preach. You and Me, but Mostly Me is sung as straight arrow Elder Price (Gabe Gibbs) is disappointingly paired with chubby, dorky Elder Cunningham (Conner Pierson) to proselytize Uganda instead of preferred Orlando.
Culture clashes are the bulk of the show as baptising and believing encounter warlords, maggots, female circumcision and bell-less doors, all abetted by sixteen songs and a ton of athletic dancing. Rotund Elder Cunningham exhibits the most fluid fat guy movements seen in Montreal since Mayor Camillien Houde skated on Beaver Lake.
‘Culture clashes are the bulk of the show as baptising and believing encounter warlords, maggots, female circumcision and bell-less doors…’
Somehow, the bumbling Elder Cunnighan attracts converts by preaching the Book in terms of Lord of the Rings and Star Trek. Head office is not impressed by this unorthodox approach, but hope springs eternal because Tomorrow Is, if not a Scarlett O’Hara Another Day, most assuredly A Latter Day which song adds to others like I Believe and Baptize Me.As villager Nabulungi, British import Leanne Robinson provides some sublimated love interest.
What to make of all this? Today, as in the non-musical hit, Angels in America, Mormons are now “in” for Broadway shows. Don’t over think, as I am prone to do, that Jesus was more likely to look like Sheldon Silverstein than a tall white-robed blond Nordic god and how very American the prophet Smith was (another song). Just sit back, enjoy the wave like dancing, the elaborate dream in hell scene and go with the flow.
The Book Of Mormon ends on April 23 at the Place des Arts.
Read also: Brel alive and well in Montreal
Images: Joan Marcus
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club