I’ve never read The Book of Mormon, but have on three occasions witnessed the Broadway musical it inspired. The latest viewing was opening night of the show’s third return to Toronto, currently on stage at the Princess Of Wales Theatre.
While there is a wide chasm between the sacred pages and its theatrical adaptation, the underlying story still preaches the soul-saving redemption (with hilarity) offered by the diety to us mere mortals. Between the covers, sacred words deliver ecclesiastic revelations, while on stage, its a whoop-de-do song/dance/comedy (blasphemous, scurrilous and foul-mouthed) extravaganza that may have you gasping with wonderment at this seemingly impious attack on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In actual fact, the show is a satiric tribute to the religious body.
The church’s heirarcy has withheld a public thrashing of the show’s creative team (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), cleverly opting for public awareness of the denomination’s doctrine with ads in the playbills which inform…..“Our version is sliiiightly different…..the musical is entertaining. The book? It’s life changing.”
The plot overlooks the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir and ecclesiastic observances, focusing on the church’s missionary endeavors. We follow the experiences of Elder Price (Gabe Gibbs) and Elder Cunningham (Connor Peirson), two mismatched missionaries despatched from Salt Lake City to spread the gospel in far off Uganda. In a remote jungle village they encounter a weapon- wielding war lord who subjugates the natives. They in turn lustily sing/ shout vulgarities at God for their suffering, It’s a shocking revelation to the two Elders and a jolt to audiences.
Gibbs is persuasive as Elder Price, the clean-cut, polite, devoted Mormon. Driven by an overachieving attitude, he feels chained to his clumsy partner as related in the song “You And Me (/But Mostly Me)”. Peirson adds humor as the hang dog Elder Cunningham who is vague on the interpretation of The Book Of Mormon, and preaches his own version (“Making Things Up Again”). Cunningham is a missionary looking for a mission, as well as a friend. The two become one as the religious odd couple.
With subversive humor, the musical is indecently funny, yet reveals an earnest belief (“I Believe)”, a majestic anthem that affirms faith. The book and lyrics are brimming with exaggerated vocal and sight gags that could elicit gasps if they weren’t so funny, thereby lifting the burden of audience guilt.
The Book Of Mormon, recipient of many awards, including the 2011 Broadway Tony for best musical, is on stage at Toronto’s Princess Of Wales Theatre through April 16.