MikeInWeHo reads conflicting reviews of the Book of Mormon Musical and is intrigued and troubled by the soundtrack. He determines to seek the truth by embarking on a journey from West Hollywood to New York City.
Some time in the year 2011 there was an unusual excitement in the Bloggernacle on the subject of musical theater. During this time of great excitement his mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness. At length he came to the conclusion that he must either remain in darkness and confusion, or he must fly to New York City and see the Book of Mormon musical for himself.
MikeInWeHo sees the Book of Mormon Musical, returns to West Hollywood, and writes the following review for his LDS friends:
Fear not the Book of Mormon musical! It is like a gift from a non-member friend who admires you but doesn’t understand you. Calling it anti-Mormon is like calling Fiddler On The Roof anti-Semitic.
When I first listened to the soundtrack, I was troubled. There is a lot of crude language, and two songs in particular made me cringe: “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (which shall remain sealed in this review), presents a group of unconverted Ugandans cursing God for their troubles in the most shocking language imaginable. “Baptize Me” conflates a convert baptism with a sexual encounter between two virgins. If you’re looking to offend Mormon listeners, these two recordings would be a good place to start. Throw in “The All American Prophet,” which includes some ribbing about the Book of Mormon story, and at first blush this musical would seem to be nothing more than the best-funded anti-Mormon effort to date.
But it’s not! Context is everything. Listening to the recording, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is blasphemous. On stage, it’s not offensive and very funny. The foul language is completely overshadowed by the beautiful dancing and the horrified response of the missionaries. I barely heard the language, but the image of the troubled missionaries stuck with me. They were as troubled as you’d expect missionaries to be in that situation. You can’t see that when you listen to the recording.
This continues. The “Baptize Me” scene is very different than it sounds on the recording, and is immediately followed by something memorable: The missionaries baptize the entire village. This scene is beautiful, moving, and wouldn’t offend even conservative members. I was surprised by this.
In the end the chubby, second-rate missionary (Elder Arnold Cunningham) saves the Ugandan village by propagating stories that convert them to better behaviors. The villagers write down his stories and the musical ends triumphantly with the birth of a new religion: The entire cast raises a copy of The Book of Arnold and gives thanks to God.
Secular audiences and Mormons with universalist leanings will love this musical. The crude language is completely overshadowed by the visuals, dancing, and character development. If you can handle an episode of South Park or the typical BCC post, you won’t be troubled. You may cringe a couple of times, but in the end you will join the rest of the audience as it jumps to its feet and cheers the cast at curtain-call.
I’ve seen a lot of theater, but have never seen a standing ovation as enthusiastic as this one. This story will be coming to a theater near you.
The Book of Mormon musical bursts with fondness toward the Mormon people, despite its decidedly secular worldview. It is an olive-branch extended across the great divide between believers and non-believers, not an attack on anyone’s faith. As I sat watching it, I kept thinking “There is so much outreach opportunity here for Mormons. I wonder how they will handle it.”