Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Book of Mormon Musical

So I finally had a chance to listen to the score of The Book of Mormon on NPR. (Warning: If you do give it a listen, there may be material you find objectionable - seriously.) Obviously, there's been some controversy about the show and also the show has received a lot of great reviews and accolades.

While not always a fan of the crass humor that Matt Stone and Trey Parker exhibit on their television show, "South Park," I do think they have a gift for satire and are sometimes quite clever. Often they push the envelope too far for my personal taste, but I guess that's what satire is often about. I don't watch "South Park," and I've only seen the tail end of a few episodes while waiting for "The Daily Show" to come on. Some of what I've seen has offended me, but some has made me laugh, and often points are well-made in a satirical, but crass manner. I guess what I'm saying is that I actually appreciate some of the things Parker and Stone have to say; I just don't always appreciate the way they say it. And I'm sure that would be the case if I ever saw this show (which, I do not hesitate to add, I would do if given the opportunity - I don't think you can really judge the value of a show without experiencing it yourself).

I have not seen the show, and my comments are based only on the songs I've heard and what little of the plot I know. So here's my assessment, for what it's worth:

"Hello" – It’s a catchy tune. I actually quite like it. The doorbell stuff is clever. I think it typifies the way Mormon missionaries behave. I'm not to keen on how Jesus Christ’s name is interspersed in a somewhat flippant way. It comes off a bit blasphemous, to my ear. I like how the character of Elder Cunningham is introduced. There are some really good voices throughout the score, and this song is a nice introduction. "Burn in helloooooo!" is a clever lyric. I like the “hello” chorus at the end. One lyric is "This book will change your life," which I think is true (isn't that what the LDS Church said in their statement about this musical?).

"Two By Two" – I think it captures how a lot of missionaries feel when receiving their calls. The spirit, the enthusiasm. Not exactly accurate on how it’s done, but it’s forgivable. I like the joke of The Church of Jesus Christ with "of Latter-Day Saints" squeezed in. I really think the performers vocally capture some of the naivety and good-heartedness of Mormon missionaries. I think when they get called to Uganda, it also captures the disappointment missionaries sometimes feel on not getting the call they were hoping for. I love Elder Cunnigham’s naivety of not even knowing where it is, but still feeling good about it. It's a peppy, fun song. I like the rhythmic breakdown.

"You and Me (But Mostly Me)" – I knew some missionaries like Elder Price. I think this captures well the pride that some missionaries carry. I also like how this captures the initial relationship of Elders Price and Cunningham. I think it’s got some very funny moments. I also like how this captures how missionaries feel as they’re going into the field vs. the reality they often face. This has a very “Defying Gravity” sort of essence to it, which probably was intentional.

"Hasa Diga Eebowai" – While I like the “Hakuna Matata” spoofiness (not a real word, by the way) of it, I have a hard time with anything that takes the Lord’s name in vain nor do I care for the F-word, so some of the lyrics grate on my nerves. The tune is catchy and very Lion King-like. I do get the sentiment. Life for some people is pretty terrible and often unfair, and there's an amusing juxtaposition of the Ugandans’ very serious daily life problems with that of the Mormon missionaries’ far less consequential "problems." I can certainly understand that there are people out there who feel, due to the injustices of life, towards God the way these characters do, so I can appreciate the message of the song; but the song is too crass for my taste. I also appreciate the relation of where the characters are in their journey in this song and where they end up later in the show.

"Turn It Off" – I think this song, sadly, does portray very well how some Mormons behave and repress their feelings or mistake “keeping the world out” with not allowing themselves to explore issues or feelings they might find distasteful. It certainly touches on the Mormon attitudes towards homosexuality. The melody itself is kind of repetitive, but is still kind of bouncy and has a nice tap section. Again, good male voices. Nice parody of big showstopping number.

"I Am Here For You" – This song reminds me how endearing I find the character of Elder Cunningham. I like the idea of how when missionaries are discouraged, there’s still that underlying optimism and spirit. The song is actually quite endearing.

"All-American Prophet" – Nice illustration of how “American” the Mormon religion seems. It also illustrates why a lot of people who aren’t Mormon sometimes find our beliefs a bit weird or why people are skeptical of the Mormon faith. There are some funny moments in this song. Nothing is particularly doctrinally incorrect. It basically tells how the Mormon religion was founded and propagated. It's a nice poppy number. Actually, it is even kind of nice tribute to Joseph Smith’s martyrdom.

"Sal Tlay Ka Siti" – Kind of a fun “Part of Your World”-style number about this Utopian version of Salt Lake City as seen through the eyes of a Ugandan girl. I like the optimism and hopefulness of it and how different this girl’s reality is from the vision she has of what Salt Lake City is. I like the lyric about how she bets the citizens of Salt Lake City (in her idealistic view) are “open-minded and don’t care who you’ve been” and how she wants to “fit in” with those people. Kind of a nice irony. It’s a nice ballad sung very well.

"Man Up" – Not my favorite number in the show. I actually like the comparison of the example Jesus gave us to follow with what we must to do, but again, the throwing his name around in vain and portraying his crucifixion in a kind of flippant, light-hearted way bothers me. I’m assuming this is the Act One closer. That’s how it feels to me. I like how the characters are facing where they are in their own personal journeys. I also like that Elder Price is dealing with doubts.

"Making Things Up" – I’m guessing this is Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and Robert Lopez’s commentary on why organized religion exists and how it's created to help people, but can often come across as meaningless, silly, and absurd. There is some language in the song that I find distasteful, but I do get the point (at least how I interpret it) that the things Elder Cunningham is telling the Ugandans is helping them better their lives even if they aren’t true.

"Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" – This is fun song which I think illustrates the guilt Mormons put on themselves, and how the need for perfection sometimes causes us to judge ourselves too harshly. I like how what Elder Price has done is just as horrible in his mind as the far worse actions of others. Mormons often do that, I think. I know I did. Some language in the song is not to my liking, but the song has its amusing moments, and is a good illustration of the demons Elder Price is wrestling within himself.

"I Believe" – I think this is my favorite song in the show ("Hello" being a close second). This song is quite touching actually. I like Andrew Rannel's voice, too. Nothing in the song is doctrinally unsound, and yet it is also clear why outsiders find the Mormon religion kind of odd. I like this idea that Mormons just believe what they do because they feel it is true. I even sense the creators of the show admire and maybe even envy that quality even if they don’t understand it.

"Baptize Me" – Because I do think of baptism as a sacred ordinance, I don’t particularly like the sexual innuendo that the song contains. But I do like the idea of how exciting the baptism is for both the new convert and the missionary who has never baptized anyone.

"I Am Africa" – An anthem-like song about becoming one with the people one lives with as a missionary. I think I really need to see the show to get a better sense of how this song fits in.

"Joseph Smith American Moses" – This is very reminiscent of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” from The King and I. I appreciate the parody, but the song contains too much of F-word and treats Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in a somewhat blasphemous way that it isn’t to my liking. I do, however, like the point of how kind and polite Mormons are, and I know that Matt Stone and Trey Parker have often said that even though they find Mormon beliefs hard to swallow that Mormons are some of the nicest people they've known. I also get the point that even though the story is ridiculous, how enamored the Ugandans are of this religion that has bettered their lives. And maybe that's a point the creators are making: organized religion can be very ridiculous, but still help people.

"Tomorrow Is a Latter Day" – Nice closer, and everyone’s life is better and brings us full circle as these Ugandans’ lives have improved as have those of the missionaries who taught them. I actually believe Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s assertion that in spite of any crassness or blasphemy, this show really is a kind of “love letter” to the Mormon religion even if its doctrines are not fully understood or relatable to the two men.

In short, the score was basically what I expected. There is some fun, clever music to be found and some valid points to be made, but some of the material makes me cringe. I think the message is good. Like I said, I would see it if I had the opportunity, but I don't think it's a show I would be at all comfortable taking my mom to.


Miguel said...

Thanks for the link! I just listened to the whole thing and I must say it is really good! I do agree with you on all the points of respect vs sacrilege but I can see why it was nominated for several Tonys. Now I want to see it. We should make a group pilgrimage to NYC to watch it!

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

Miguel, I'd love to go to NY if I could afford it.

DPS, I agree that if we can't address the uncomfortable stuff, we have little business trying to teach those who deal with that stuff every day. We become just like the people in the song "Turn It Off."

patty dyck said...

I'm just a random reader.

I thought your comments were really fair and astute. I ended up feeling like the songs ultimately said, 'what fools,' to members of the church, but I guess I can see an aspect of admiration and even commentary on the good it produces despite the supposed foolishness. I've heard it compared to Fiddler on the Roof, but feel like this play did more to ridicule than open up discussion. I'm a member of the LDS church but often feel conflicted, if that gives you a good sense of where I stand.

Anyways, just wanted to thank you for this blog. It's been interesting to read your thoughts. I really appreciate your faith in God and your faith in what you feel is right.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, Patty.

I appreciate your comments.