I have tried very hard to maintain a strong dislike for The Book of Mormon musical. My first gut reaction to the very notion of it was one of dread. In particular, I dreaded the inevitable lines it would draw between those Mormons who are “cool” and have a sense of humor–and like the musical, verses those who aren’t cool, who don’t have a sense of humor, who have overactive persecution complexes and too-prudish sensibilities and dangit just can’t take a joke–and don’t like the musical. Those very divisions were evident almost immediately. A friend’s facebook wall devolved into an ugly spat with a fellow ward member who had a different opinion about the musical, testy comments peppered Bloggernacle discussions of it, and national media reviews of it contained pointed asides preemptively judging any who might take offense.
What bothered me most of all were the echoes of situations I’ve been in too many times to count, where I’ve felt compelled to “enjoy” a laugh at my own expense. As a woman who works in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field, it is a regular occurrence that a male co-worker will make a joke about women in my presence. Sometimes he’ll have the courtesy to subsequently realize, “Oh dear, I forgot she’s here,” and he’ll try to backpedal somehow. But more often than not, the backpedaling takes the form of self-justification, of saying, “Oh it wasn’t about you! It’s about other women, the [some negative attribute] ones! You’re not like them! You’re cool.” At which point I am socially expected to chuckle and say, “Yeah, screw them! Hahaha! What a funny joke! Not at all at my expense! See–I’m cool! I can laugh at jokes about women! I’m not one of those humorless feminists or something!!” I loathe that dynamic with every fiber of my being. I’ve been in that position often enough that if I catch so much as a faraway whiff of an oncoming instance of it, I reflexively bristle and prepare to scathingly loathe it. Such was my feeling about The Book of Mormon musical when the first rumors of its production were swirling.
And yet here’s where my Mormony imperative to total honesty compels me to admit that I did love the doorbell chorus of the “Hello” song when I listened to a recording of it on NPR. And that the number they performed at the Tony Awards tonight was, well, actually quite charming. I’d read quite a bit about that song, “I Believe,” and how it highlighted a laundry list of doctrinal oddities but was still “surprisingly sweet,” and that loathing instinct was triggered. How dare people try to guilt me into laughing at my own religion by throwing up the passive-aggressive barrier of “surprisingly sweet”? But the performance was so earnest and sincere that I found my heart melting, a little.
I still don’t think it would be fair to characterize the musical as not at Mormons’ expense. I believe Parker and Stone when they say that they weren’t out to destroy us. As they rightly point out, spending seven years making a Broadway musical probably isn’t the most efficient way they could have chosen to achieve that goal, if it had been the goal. But let’s not err too far in the other direction, and say that this is designed for the purpose of helping us as much as possible. And that is totally ok. Nobody owes us free PR work.
So if I am to warm up to the musical–which I demand not be assumed as a foregone conclusion, I ask that everybody on Facebook, and the blogs, and in the media, give me the space to do it on my own terms. In the mean time, for tonight, I can very sincerely say this to Parker and Stone: Congratulations. Well-deserved awards for what is by all accounts great musical theater. And thanks for the shout-out to Joseph Smith.
- Best Musical
- Best Book of a Musical
- Best Original Score
- Best Actress in a Musical — Nikki M. James
- Best Direction of a Musical
- Best Orchestrations
- Best Scenic Design
- Best Lighting Design
- Best Sound Design