Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Book of Mormon, touring company at Bass Hall, University of Texas, October 2 - 13, 2013

ALT review

by Michael Meigs

Book of Mormon
The crowd at Bass Concert Hall at the University of Texas was bubbling with gleeful expectation for the opening performance in Austin of The Book of Mormon tour. They responded enthusiastically throughout the evening and went away plainly satisfied with the spectacle and the storytelling. Those South Park guys did it again, as confirmed by all those Tony awards, including the one for best musical, using their cheerful cynicism and satire to tap into the American consciousness.

Perhaps television and other media have shaped us this way, with their relentless push of events abroad so violent that they seem like cartoons and their frequent debunking of the self-important and sanctimonious.

The Book of Mormon links those spheres, parodying the requirement of Mormon practice that each maturing Mormon male depart from home into the wider world on a mission to recruit for the faith. You’ve certainly seen them, two by two, young men designated as ‘elders,’ dutifully dressed in dark trousers and white shirts with ties, making their way from door to door with an appeal to consider the religion and the Book. The exuberant opening number of this musicale is a multifold celebration of that doorbell-pushing, smiling, hopeful encounter.

Mark Evans Book of Mormon
Mark Evans (via
The program has no list of musical numbers, so if like me you haven’t already absorbed the cast album, you have no idea what’s about to hit you.

The show’s a lot of fun. It’s much less about the relatively hermetic but intriguing Mormon religion than it is about teenage angst and ambition, qualities common to all males on the brink of adulthood – individuals who are eager to receive recognition as grownups (elders) but who aren’t yet at ease in their skins. There are lots of opportunities for satire here – the earnest, egotistical golden boy Elder Price (Mark Evans), the goofy sloppy dreamer second banana Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill) and the six or so other white-shirted innocents who play the missionaries in training and then the band of the bewildered boys sent to test their religious certainties upon a village of miserable, violent, oppressed and depraved Ugandan natives.

Nothing’s funnier than seeing received certainties disproved by the real world. In familiar South Park fashion the writers contrast the legends of the faith – especially those mysterious golden tablets delivered by an angel to Joseph Smith – with the brutalities of ‘real’ life: AIDS, violent oppression, parasites, murder, rape, pedophilia and the humiliation of forced sodomy. Hah! Take that, you pure of heart!

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