Title: The Book of Mormon: A New Broadway Musical from the Creators of South Park (Original Cast Recording)
Artist: Robert Lopez, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone
Release date: Out Now
Price: $12.99 / £8.99
Produced by: Stephen Oremus, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Robert Lopez, Anne Garefino, Scott Rudin, and Kurt Deutsch
Composed by: Robert Lopez, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone
Tags: Showtunes, Soundtrack, Comedy, Broadway Musical
Elders Price and Cunningham are two Mormon missionaries who set out to change the world. Little does one know the extent of the changes he will make and little the other knows the change he will make in himself. The creators of South Park pull back the curtain on Mormon missionary life in a Broadway musical as sweet as it is satirical.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker are no strangers to musicals. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is more or less a send up of Les Misérables with a god-hating, chain-smoking revolutionary 5th grader from France. Before South Park was Cannibal: The Musical, a humorous account of the first American to be tried for cannibalism. Team America, while not structured like a movie musical, nevertheless features a number of songs spoofing those one might hear in a movie produced by Michael Bay.
As Matt and Trey leave South Park behind, they refuse to turn their backs on the musical. When Robert Lopez approached the creative team with the concept of The Book of Mormon as a broadway musical, Matt and Trey leapt at the opportunity. The three of them share a fascination for Mormons and Mormonism in general. In fact, that the creators of South Park grew up among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is reflected in the animated series. In South Park, heaven is populated by Mormons only. When a Mormon family moves to South Park, neighboring families emulate their family oriented lifestyle.
The same treatment is applied to this Broadway musical. While the musical makes fun of the outlandish claims of the religion, it is never mean spirited. Early response from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is that, although the language is offensive, the portrayal of Mormons is rather sweet in a way. Speaking as a former Mormon I have to agree. Furthermore, I’ll add that much of Mormon culture is reflected in the musical as well. The Mormons are not straw men here, but rather the focus of a comedic exposé in musical form. Traits both good and bad are spotlighted.
The show opens in the Missionary Training Center with Hello, in which the nineteen-year-old elders learn the ins and outs of delivering the gospel door-to-door. We meet Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) and Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad), the latter a well-intentioned screw up. In Two by Two we get to learn more about Elder Price. This prideful, young man fashions himself the next prophet. He feels as though he is meant for something special. His destiny waits in Orlando, Florida.
Elder Price is paired with Arnold Cunningham. You and Me (But Mostly Me) reaffirms the confidence and willfulness of Elder Price while Cunningham is more than happy to just stay out of the future prophet’s way. While Price may come off as a bit of a blowhard, his charm and sincerity makes him likeable nonetheless. Yet, despite his prayers to Our Heavenly Father, Price and his new companion are sent to Uganda.
In Uganda the missionaries are immediately confronted with a cultural gap. Uganda suffers poverty, war, and disease. Women are subjagated and men have resorted to raping babies. Why rape babies? Some tribesmen believe that bedding with a virgin will rid one of AIDS and, quite frankly, the village is plum out of virgins. In a send up of The Lion King, Hasa Diga Ebowai expresses the villagers’ attitude towards life. While Price and Cunningham think that the saying may mean “no worries”, it in fact means “fuck God”.
Shocked by the lack of faith, the Mormon missionaries discover they are way over their heads. That ancient enemy of faith, doubt, creeps in. There is only one way a Mormon deals with contrary feelings, Turn It Off. The reason why the sale of antidepressants is so high in Utah stems from the pressure of being Mormon. A Mormon must be righteous, faithful, and obedient. Expectations are high. There is no room for doubt, no time for sadness , and definitely no place for homosexual thought. It is no secret that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints donated a great deal of money to Proposition 8, the bill in California to halt same-sex marriage. Feelings contrary to the Mormon faith, like homosexual thoughts, are to be repressed if not completely snuffed out of existence. As the song says, “Turn it off / Like a light switch / Just go click / It’s a cool little Mormon trick / We do it all the time.” The ironic, upbeat nature of this song truly sells it.
All the same, the missionaries try as they can to teach the words of Joseph Smith to the Ugandan people. All-American Prophet tells the story of Joseph Smith in much the same style as a song from Oklahoma. The rambling Elder Price speaks of how God told Joe to go to a tree upon a hill in his backyard, to dig by that tree, and to recover the golden plates. The story goes on from there to include a visit from the angel named Moroni, the assassination of Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young’s leadership and eventual founding of Salt Lake City.
This leads us to Sal Tlay Ka Siti as sung by Nabulungi (Nikki M. James in a Tony-winning performance) in which we see the reverse side of the culture gap. In it she sings of Salt Lake City and its roofs thatched with gold. She sings of kind warlords and the complete absence of evil. It speaks of a naïveté on both sides.
At the end of the first act, Elder Price abandons Arnold and prepares for his trip to Orlando, the location of his destiny. Left behind, Elder Cunningham digs deep within to assume his role as a missionary. In Man Up he equates confidence with how Jesus behaved during the crucifixion. He didn’t cry like a girl, he took it like a man. The song has Matt and Trey’s marks all over it, from the characteristic delivery of lines to how it encompasses reprises of the previous songs.
Act Two opens with Elder Cunningham delivering the gospel in his own, special way. Determined to help the village with its more immediate problems, Arnold elaborates - okay, he makes shit up. He inserts stuff about bedding with frogs and he includes characters from Star Wars and Star Trek. All the while his conscience bites him and the spirit of Joseph Smith berates him.
Elder Price also undergoes a crisis of faith. In a fantastic musical sequence, he experiences a Spooky Mormon Hell Dream in which he revisits all the bad things he has done, the worst of which is his abandonment of his companion. The spooky hell dream features cameos from Lucifer, Hitler, and Johnny Cochran. Scared straight, so to speak, he awakes with a new mission. In I Believe Price announces to the world what it is to be a Mormon. As he charges into the warlord’s camp, he proclaims, “I believe that Satan has a hold of you / I believe that the Lord, God, has sent me here / And I believe that in 1978, God changed his mind about black people! / You can be a Mormon...A Mormon who just believes!” The song is a shortlist of many of the tenets, both straightforward and peculiar, that a Mormon believes. Mostly it serves as a declaration of faith, faith being the central theme of the show.
If you replace the verb in Baptize Me you pretty much get where this song is going. Nabulungi approaches Elder Cunningham and asks him to baptize her into the church. What follows is a duet mouthwateringly dense in sexual subtext. Even the moment Arnold dunks her under water mirrors sexual climax.
I am Africa again showcases the gap between white missionaries and the people of Uganda. Price and Cunningham have grown accustomed to Africa. In song they identify with the dark country and the mighty, lion king. Elder Cunningham’s teachings have reached the Ugandans. The villagers chant about Joseph Smith American Moses, whereby they honor not the actual teachings from the Book of Mormon, but from Arnold’s strange interpretation. One highlight is the chant about the dangers of amoebic dysentery. The song culminates in all out orgy, it being a different take on large Mormon families and “Be fruitful and multiply.” The show comes full circle in a reprise of Hello in which the Ugandan missionaries spread the gospel of Arnold Cunningham, the prophet of the fourth chapter of the Holy Bible.
The Book of Mormon Musical has won several awards, including nine Tony awards and has had fourteen nominations. As of the writing of this review it has sold out every show. Critics hail it as a success and many tout that it will revitalize live theater. The original cast recording, while not as exciting as the live performance, nevertheless captures the spirit of the Broadway show. Unlike some musicals, the songs tell the story and that story is at once satirical and heartwarming. If you like soundtracks, pick this up and spread the word.