In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I talked a bit about two notable writers from the television and movie worlds: Joss Whedon and Quentin Tarantino. And in Part 3, I diverted a bit to discuss the movie Horrible Bosses. Providing you haven’t thrown your hands up in despair for my taste in awesome writing in media, here’s another one for you.
Here in Part 4, I’m taking another turn, this time in to the world of theater. My husband and I have been very lucky to enjoy quite a few stage productions over the years (though we’d always be happy to see more of them), and, like movies, the hype is often built up so much about one that you’re left feeling wanting and let down after seeing it.
I’m happy to report that this was not the case with Book of Mormon. It’s a freaking 9-Tony-award-winning musical that’s both a satire and comedy, written by the team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the creators of South Park) and Robert Lopez, who apparently worked on the writing for Avenue Q before that, at least according to Wikipedia. And that, ten years ago, was a sentence I never thought I’d write.
I should mention that if you’re of the easily-offended variety, be it about religion or lady-parts, you’ll probably want to stop reading here. Thanks for stopping by, and avoid this play like the plague.
Everyone good now? Awesome.
The premise is that two young, naive Mormon missionaries are assigned to a remote village in Africa to bring the Book of Mormon–the sacred text of the Latter Day Saints–to the people there and baptize them into their faith. Unfortunately, the missionaries have difficulty connecting with most of the locals, who are ruled by an evil warlord obsessed with female circumcision. I don’t want to give any more away than that, because this is just something you have to see for yourself.
The plot and characterization are unmistakably Parker and Stone; the whole play seems as though it’s a live-action version of the best South Park episode you’ve ever seen (minus the core characters, obviously). The Mormon missionaries, villagers, and the rest of the cast are full of caricature and satire, overdone in the best possible way. Even the social commentary is spot-on and universal; when I saw the play, it was in London at a West-end theater, and I think the audience mostly consisted of British people–everyone loved it, and everything translated just fine. If anything, they thought it was funnier, because they got to poke fun at Americans.
As for the music and lyrics, those fit in with the plot and dialogue and never felt out of place. Whether the characters are singing a cheerful song which title translates to “Fuck you, God!”, or one about repressing negative thoughts or homosexual feelings, it all works. And by works, I mean has you laughing your ass off.
But, Sarah, you may be thinking. You can’t possibly lump this play in with the likes of Phantom of the Opera, or Les Miserables, or any other amazingly popular musical?
No, you can’t. They’re apples and oranges and pomegranates; you can certainly be fans all of them, but Book of Mormon is fresh and interesting, and an entirely different fruit altogether. Plus, Phantom doesn’t have a spooky dream sequence in Hell, and Les Mis seems to be missing some crossover references with The Hobbit, Star Trek, and Star Wars.
One caveat is that I think Book of Mormon is probably geared toward a younger audience (40 and under, I’d guess) or those of any age who aren’t easily offended. My parents enjoyed every minute of it when we took them. Good writing is universal, so go see it in London or on Broadway, or even one of the touring companies if you can. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Just don’t wait; it often books out months in advance.
Have you seen it? What did you think?