By Mister Curie
Book of Mormon on Broadway this past Friday, on Opening Weekend. Ultimately the church newsroom got it about right when they said it will "attempt to entertain audiences for an evening." It was hilarious. I laughed nearly non-stop. It was a very entertaining evening. The musical does not pretend to try to "change people's lives forever" and I think there is very little to fear that the musical is going to ultimately push people away from Christ or even from Mormonism.
For individuals on the fence about whether or not to go see it, I think a good rule of thumb is to apply the "South Park" test. To apply this test, watch the South Park episode, "All About the Mormons" and if you are offended, you should avoid the musical. There is plenty to offend people if they "choose to be offended" (course language that resulted in requiring an "explicit language" warning printed on all the tickets, satire at the expense of sacred Mormon themes, potty humor/sexual humor). However, very little of the musical derived humor at the expense of Mormons in particular, unlike how I felt about their South Park episode which seemed to be mostly about mocking Mormon beliefs. Most of the humor is situational, internally derived in the play. You laugh at the characters and the caricatures because of their characters and situations, not because they are Mormon. The stage effects, choreography, and music are all amazing! I am still humming the catchy tunes.
Initially upon leaving the theater, I felt heart-warmed, satisfied, and thought it was a very funny musical. I had been well entertained for the evening. But the musical has really stuck with me and upon further reflection and discussion with others who also saw it, I find the musical to be a very complex production filled with multiple layers of story and insight. While a non-Mormon audience will find one layer of humor and a Mormon audience will find another layer of humor with specific gems included just for them, I think there are further layers for those audiences in particular that frequent my blog, the gay Mormons and disaffected Mormons.
For the gay Mormons, there is a gay Mormon missionary supporting character who is struggling with his same gender attraction (there is also a real gay Mormon actor in the play, although he does not play the gay Mormon missionary character). The gay Mormon missionary gets a prominant role in the song "Turn it Off!", a song about turning off uncomfortable feelings that don't fit into the church paradigm, like doubts, depression, and homosexual feelings. The character provides a humerous critique at church policies on homosexuality. I think the creators have identified homosexuality as one of those areas in particular where society is moving much more quickly than the church and there is beginning to be a lot of dissonance between church culture and American culture when it comes to homosexuality. I think there is a message of self-acceptance and the dangers of denying one's true self in the subtext of the play.
For the disaffected Mormons, I think the play's theme and message is directed most specifically toward them, but maybe that is just because I fit so well into that demographic that the layer of the play that spoke most to me was the one directed at disaffected Mormons. One of the plays main story arcs is the journey of the main character, Elder Price, from a deeply devouted missionary to disaffected Mormon when he discovers the church doesn't work in the world the way he thought it would to an individual with more complex beliefs who accepts that something doesn't have to be true to be do good in the world. I felt that Elder Price's faith journey encapsulated Fowler's Stages of Faith and I really identified with his character during his faith crisis in the second act. Ultimately, Elder Price ended his faith journey further ahead of where I currently am on my faith journey.
There are so many layers to the musical, I think I am going to have to go back to see it again. Perhaps I was too quick in concluding that it wouldn't "change people's lives forever." I may yet find in it an essential clue for coming to grips with Mormonism's past role and future place in my life.