Life, Theater

Theater: The Book of Mormon

October 30, 2012

On Saturday night, Jenn and I went down to the beautiful Pantages Theater in Hollywood to see The Book of Mormon.  I thought it was pretty great — hilarious, energetic, and transgressive, exactly what you would expect from a live-action production from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the minds behind South Park.

The Book of Mormon is a scathing religious satire about a Mormon missionary named Kevin Price (Gavin Creel), whose optimism for the faith is challenged when he’s teamed with obnoxious companion Arnold Cunningham (Jared Gertner) and sent to Uganda, of all places.  Price is convinced he’s destined for greatness, but can he succeed in the face of the world’s harsh realities?

I’m no expert on musicals, but The Book of Mormon struck me as a faithful execution of the form, rendered shocking and outlandish by its controversial subject matter.  The music is catchy and traditional, while the lyrics go to extremes, with varying results:  occasionally icky, but usually hilarious.  For me the most consistently funny aspect of the piece, though, was the dancing:  utterly silly and absurd throughout.  Did John Cleese do the choreography?

The first act hummed along brilliantly, I thought.  I got bogged down after the intermission, when the action slowed enough for me to think — perhaps too much — about some of the less tasteful jokes.  Comedy has a tradition of going to extremes to make its points, and of course Parker and Stone are notorious for this.  But it’s one thing to push the taste envelope, another to push the same envelope repeatedly; if nothing else it dilutes the impact of the humor.  That said, act two does have its highlights — the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” number was an absolute masterpiece — and it wraps up quite satisfyingly, bludgeoning home its message.  Definitely not for all audiences, particularly if you’re religiously sensitive or, uh, politically correct, but I loved its edgy, absurd approach to some scary-serious subject matter, even if it occasionally went over the line.  A memorable night out!

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