A reader writes:
I am a practicing Mormon. I don't claim to represent the mainstream of my faith, but I do hold up well enough to have taught adult Sunday school weekly for most of the last 12 years. I have enjoyed your review of "The Book of Mormon". My reaction to the show was in most ways similar to yours, though with some bitter-sweetness, as it was my faith so effectively mocked and honored during the show.
I attended a preview of the musical with a close friend who left the church several weeks into his mission, after concluding that it wasn't true and he couldn't teach people that it was. Oddly, the event of him leaving the church tightly bound us together due to the way that we both reacted. I learned through that event that my friendship with him wasn't a function of his faith, but rather his character. Over the intervening 20ish years, we have stayed close. Religion continues to be one theme of our relationship and discussions. When we found out about this musical, we couldn't resist meeting in NY to share the "Book of Mormon" experience together.
My reaction to the musical borders on awe.
It wasn't perfect, but it was darn close. Orgazmo, while entertaining, didn't feel "Mormon" to me. It missed on too many critical facts and cultural issues to feel genuine. "The Book of Mormon" felt like the faith I grew up with and maintain. I knew those missionaries. I know them. I was one of them. The way missionaries are represented (young, clean, enthusiastic, naive, committed, sincere) feels like my experience in the church.
Trey and Matt deconstructed religion through the lens of Mormonism. The deconstruction seemed to me fair and universal. It showed the goofiness, inconsistency, inadequacy, and importance of faith and dogma. There were a few very minor inaccuracies (time at the missionary training center is 3 - 7 weeks, you have your assignment before you get there, companionships change every couple of months throughout the two years, etc.) but nothing that was wildly inaccurate or unfair. Church doctrine and history was shown in a comic and satirical manner, but I heard nothing that was unfair or dishonest. If anything they went lighter than I expected especially given our history on polygamy and minorities.
I know that few, if any, in my congregation would have lasted beyond the first few minutes. The raunch alone would have finished most off; the blasphemy would have taken care of the rest. So, I don't purport to represent the mean for Mormonism. But for me, seeing the absurdity of the human condition and the difficulties of religion in addressing it woven into such a spectacle was inspiring. The Mormons felt like Proverbs and the Ugandans like Ecclesiastes.
My friend, who is no longer Mormon, had the same reaction I did: this show paid honor to faith and myth and hope. It did so with satire and humor and raunch and blasphemy. That it wrapped its sweet, warped message so lovingly in frog-humping, clitorises, and Yoda is the show's magic.
My wife called me after the show. She worries a lot because faith isn't easy for me and attending the show felt to her a bit like me flaunting my unorthodoxy. When she asked, "So how was it?", I responded, "You would have hated it. I've never felt better about being a Mormon." And I meant it. The most connected I have felt in years to my faith and experience as a Mormon came while I was laughing my guts out while my beliefs and my life were mocked and honored with equal sincerity during a show nobody but Matt and Trey would have had the guts to make.
I wholeheartedly agree that the show is an absolutely amazing piece of theatre and, as someone who sees a LOT of Broadway shows, this show ranks among the best I have seen in the past 10 years. However, I want to make sure that you and your readers do not overlook Parker and Stone's collaborators, without whom this amazing piece of theater likely would not be what it is.
Bobby Lopez (co-composer/lyricist of "Avenue Q"), as Trey and Matt's continually credit in interviews, was the one who sparked the idea to do a musical about Mormons, and his musical theatre songwriting background is clearly seen in the overall structure and the music for Book of Mormon. As co-director and choreographer, Casey Nicholaw deserves much of the credit for making the evening fly by at a breakneck pace, and likely helped guide Broadway neophytes Parker and Stone through the process of getting the ideas on the stage rather than in animated characters.
(Photo: Choreographer Casey Nicholaw, writer Trey Parker, writer Matt Stone, and writer/lyricist Robert Lopez take a bow during the curtain call on the opening night of 'the Book of Mormon' on Broadway at Eugene O'Neill Theatre on March 24, 2011 in New York City. By Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)