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Play Review

Saturday, 16 March, 2013 7:26 PM

Salt Lake City Surprise: 'The Book of Mormon' Thumps The Fisher in Detroit

Photo credit: ©Joan Marcus, 2003

THE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour Company

 

by Mike Wrathell
mwrathell@yahoo.com

 

 

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DETROIT -- “The Book of Mormon” is now playing at The Fisher Theatre in Detroit. The guys from South Park are behind it, along with Broadway veteran Robert Lopez – so I knew it was gonna be good. I blocked off some time from my insane schedule of juggling being an artist, novelist, musician and attorney to have the energy and time to write a review that meets my standards. That Complaint I'm supposed to file will have to wait a day or two....

The play was typical, over-the-top, cutting edge irreverence, making some elderly people in the audience uncomfortable, as I overheard at intermission; but their discomfort was completely drowned out by a plethora of uproarious guffaws of laughter. The songs moved the story along effortlessly and brilliantly as one should expect from such seasoned comic geniuses as Matt Stone and Trey Parker – creators of South Park and Team America: World Police; so I'm not going to waste your time and mine with a blow-by-blow recap of the Tony Award winner for Best Musical in 2011.

Instead, I want to challenge myself and you with the play being a launching pad for a discussion (albeit a one-way one) on organized religion.

When Elder Price and Elder Cunningham arrive in Uganda for their two-year mission, they go to a remote jungle village whose tribesmen and tribeswomen sing a song for them called “Hasa Diga Eebowai!” which in English means, “F@#k you, God!”

Stone and Parker, you might say, take no prisoners when it comes to their open mocking of Mormonism, and organized religion, in general. I am not sure if they are agnostics or atheists, into Transcendental Meditation like Heather Graham and Clint Eastwood or whatever; but somehow I don't think they go to church every Sunday.

Jesus was in the play wearing a string of Christmas lights, and was played with a heavy-handed comedic voice. But, it worked; the musical was funny and everyone left the theatre feeling they'd been genuinely entertained.

“The Book of Mormon” was careful not to make any reference to Islam. Like the South Park episode that deleted any visualization of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, the Africa of “The Book of Mormon” was apparently still animist, the indigenous religion before Christianity and Islam competed and won over vast swaths of the continent where some say it all started.

The villagers mention being proselytized by Christians, never Muslims (even though Uganda is 12 percent Muslim according to the CIA World Factbook, pretty low compared to a lot of African nations, but still significant), and how they sent the missionaries on their merry way without being swayed. Elder Price emphasizes that Mormonism is different than orthodox Christianity; but, he, too, strikes out. It is Elder Cunningham, with his gift of ad-libbing, who's able to get the villagers to listen to the story of the great American prophet Joseph Smith. I guess I can't blame them too much for having limits on their cutting-edgeness, given the fate of Theo van Gogh....

The Koran sagely states that Mohammed is not only the greatest prophet, he is the last prophet. I have read the entire King James Version of The Bible and the Penquin English Translation of The Koran, The Prose Edda, and a lot of Hindu Upanishads, but have only perused The Book of Mormon; but, apparently, it makes the critical faux pas of not saying there won't be any prophets after Joseph Smith – which leads to some great high jinks.

Islam, Christianity, and Mormonized Christianity all have at least one thing in common: Hell. I think Judaism has a Hell, too; but let me get back to you on that. I'm not sure about the Druids, the Hindus, or the Odinists, either. I know Tolkien and Led Zeppelin have Mordor, though. There's a great scene of Mormon Hell in the musical, by the way....

Fear of death and pain can be great motivators. We all like to think there is somewhere nice we can go after we die, and meet up with our loved ones – and maybe even meet people we've never met before. I'd love to meet Jesus and Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Arthur Rimbaud, John Lennon, Keith Moon, and Marilyn Monroe and so many more. Oh, and can't forget Thomas Jefferson!

And I hope our pets go to Heaven, too. All mammals, I think, are capable of Love; and if you Love, you bring a little bit of Heaven here to Earth. I think Love is the highest consciousness, in fact. You can quote me on that. It'd be nice if the Lord of Heaven showed His appreciation and let cats, dogs, pigs, dolphins, et cetera, climb up that sacred Stairway....

Art doesn't always have answers. Often, the most entertaining art does raise questions, however; or, at the very least, produces an environment in which raising questions is fecund – like the primordial mud from which the first salamander stepped onto solid ground after a nice swim.

Even if you don't want to think, just want to laugh stentorianly into the ear of the person in front of you whenever scrotums and clitorises are mentioned, “The Book of Mormon” is the musical for you. Eat it up, Detroit! It doesn't get any better than this. Not until the movie, anyway.

THE BOOK OF MORMON, winner of nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, is pleased to announce a lottery ticket policy for the First National Tour, which begins March 12 at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit and plays a limited two week engagement March 12-24, 2013. In Detroit, the production will conduct a pre-show lottery at the box office, making 20 tickets per performance available at $29 apiece, cash only. Entries will be accepted at the box office beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance; each person will print their name and the number of tickets (1 or 2) they wish to purchase on a card that is provided. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of tickets priced at $29 each. Only one entry is allowed per person. Cards are checked for duplication prior to drawing. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets. Limit one entry per person and two tickets per winner. Tickets are subject to availability.

Related Stories: REVIEW: 'LeCage Aux Folles' is fabulous at Detroit's Fisher Theatre; REVIEW: 'The Lion King' is a big hit at the Detroit Opera House

 

Photo credit: ©Joan Marcus, 2003

Mark Evans and Derrick Williams in THE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour.

 

Photo credit: ©Joan Marcus, 2003

The nubile Nabulungi, played by Samantha Marie Ware (second from left) imagines Salt Lake City to be a sort of Shangri-La.

 

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