This is a double-packed review of “The Book of Mormon” geared for both Mormons and non-Mormons. If you are a Mormon, I’ll give you an idea of what it’s all about and what to expect if you are wondering whether or not to see it. If you aren’t a Mormon, just go see it (but read my review first, since you are are already here).
When I first heard that Trey Parker and Matt Stones, The South Park guys, were doing a musical about the Book of Mormon, I rolled my eyes. I had seen Parker’s show Orgazmo and it wasn’t even remotely close to actual missionary life (I don’t recommend this show on any level). My expectations were very low and my preconceived notions suggested this would be a mess. Then the reviews came in. Then the Tony’s. I was surprised and extremely curious. So I listened to the soundtrack and was hooked by the third “Hello.” The music was fun, catchy, and hilarious. We bought our tickets the minute they were on pre-sale back on September and had been anxiously listening to the soundtrack to gear up for last night. Seeing it live was a blast. I was enthralled for every minute.
But, before I continue with my review, I need to tell you about myself, and my background as a missionary so you know where my review is coming from (and why I can review this for Mormons and Non-Mormons).
I grew up a Mormon and in many ways, mirrored Elder Price in his dedication, conviction, and arrogance. Not only that, but I also served a Mormon mission to Africa. I left the church in my twenties, something I don’t talk a lot about because of how it had already alienated many of my former friends and relatives. But Unlike many of those I have spoken with that have also left the LDS church, I carry no ill will, anger, hostility, or burning need to convince anyone else of my view. Although my beliefs have changed and I am no longer a practicing Mormon, I still live many of the ideals and principles that I grew up with. I have a deep respect, love, and appreciation for the teachings of the LDS faith and I know that it is a very good thing for my family and friends that are faithful members. I hope that those who know me both as a member and a non-member would say that I haven’t changed at all as a person. My religious dogma changed (to agnostic), it didn’t change me as a person except perhaps that I became a bit more honest.
It is ironic that as a non-member I sometimes find myself defending the Mormon church. Of course, I also have a few criticisms, but I generally keep those to myself. Given that, I wondered what my reaction to the musical would be.
It was awesome, loved it. Hilarious, catchy music, fun characters, and an overall sweet show! The missionaries were portrayed as devoted, sincere, and very human (with their own insecurities and struggles). In fact, it may help anyone who has seen the musical to be more open to let them in the door the next time they come knocking. When I bought my Hasa Diga Eebowai shirt, I mentioned that I had been a missionary in Africa and was looking forward to the show and the guys working the booth seemed to have a genuine interest and appreciation in hearing about it. The show made proud that I too was a missionary in Africa. Incidentally, the Mormon church even took out three full page ads right in the front of the program guide. I think the show for non-Mormons offers a very fun, entertaining evening that brings a new respect for Mormon missionaries.
As a former Mormon who sometimes defends the church, I had no issues with the show. Loved it through and through. There were times I felt a twinge when something was done or said, but it faded fast. But had I seen the show back in my Mormon days when I was pretty Elder Price-ish myself, I would have been upset. Back then I was closed off and a self-righteous dick at times. I know many Mormons, however, that are more open and accepting than I was and I know they wouldn’t have issues with it.
For Mormons, imagine the LDS Musical “Saturday’s Warrior” written by a non-Mormon. The non-Mormon counterparts of Lex de Azevedo and Janice Kapp Perry teaming up to write a sweet but comical tale of a couple of Mormon missionaries. The focus isn’t the doctrine but rather the characters themselves. In fact, at times, doctrine is used to poke fun of Mormons in general. I believe if we can’t laugh at ourselves then life is pretty brutal. And like any religion, some doctrines when viewed from the outside are going to sound bizarre and somewhat comical. So that said, a few of these doctrines were used to boost the humor of the show. There wasn’t anything you can’t read about in a copy of Mormon Doctrine, but if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’ll probably take offense. If, however, you can see how funny some things sound to the rest of the world, you will be laughing right along with everyone.
I think the biggest issue for many Mormons will be the language, which at times is very crass and full of F-bombs. (Not the missionaries language, but the people they are teaching in Uganda.) There is also a huge misunderstanding when one of the Elder’s starts making up doctrine to try and help the tribe, but the plot is very clear that the is making up information and not actually teaching Mormon doctrine at this point. It fits very well with his character and isn’t, in my opinion, a slam on Mormons. I thought it was well crafted but would imagine a lot of Mormons will feel uneasy with how the tribe then interprets his teachings.
I was particularly moved by a pivotal moment in the movie where Elder Price expresses his dedication in the song “I Believe.” I found it inspiring and touching and although it is laced with some humor that might bring up the defensive walls for some Mormons, I respected, admired, and sympathized with the zest and passion of his missionary spirit. I easily recalled my days as a missionary, knocking on doors, devoted and truly loving the South Africans that I was able to meet on a daily basis. I remember that passion and wanting with all my heart to share with them the ideals that I believed would help change their lives for the better.
If you are a Mormon that refuses to see a movie because of harsh language, or you often find yourself feeling angry with how the media sometimes reports on Mormon beliefs, you might want to pass on this one. If you refuse to laugh at a crass joke (no matter how funny you find it internally), then again, you should avoid this one. However, if you are a Mormon that is secure with your beliefs, can laugh at jokes about diarrhea, aren’t offended by the F word, and can step outside to view your own beliefs from the perspective of the rest of the world, then you should try and buy a ticket. And because this is the hottest show on Broadway, you will have to try. If you succeed, you’ll laugh and even shed a few tears (both from the sweetness and the humor).