The Book of Mormon

The Mormons' trademark shiny happy disposition is a great fit for the toothy smiles and jazz hands of musical theatre. The form's protocols are observed, but the satire cuts through the suffocating good cheer that would normally put me off. The cast have the difficult task of balancing bathos with pathos. Too much of the former and you are left with a simple diatribe against the self-delusions of religion, and anyone can do that. What is more interesting is the way religions actually work. The question that needs answering is WHY people believe these 'fucking weird', even malicious, fabrications. The Book of Mormon attempts an answer, with some success. One of the great ideas in the show is the way Elder Cunningham draws on his pop culture knowledge (Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings) as a resource when adapting the Mormon holy text. This both demonstrates the way narratives are stitched together from previously articulated narratives (whatever is available), and the way religious movements have done this in the past to stay relevant. Arguably Christ used Judaism for his own purposes, as Joseph Smith used Christianity for his.

Following on from the previous post, alarm bells will start ringing whenever privileged writers try to portray less privileged cultures. Trey Stone and Matt Parker are white guys setting much of their story in Uganda, and they ask their cast to speak with African accents. To their credit, they partly get around the difficulty by very blatantly calling it out while the characters are still in America, and they continue to do so: the missionaries chant 'I am Africa!' when they successfully convert the village, and there is even a dig at Bono (who is fair game as far as I'm concerned). Parker and Stone mostly stick to making fun of American attitudes, and if you were being kind you could lump 'maggots in my scrotum' and sex with babies to cure AIDS as part of the same satirical project. However, they do also take a stab at evoking the genuine African experience by giving Nikki M. James a solo where she dreams of living a life less 'shitty'. Again, pathos expertly mixed with bathos. And any worries I had about the imposition of alien attitudes onto an existing culture were blown away by the strength of her performance. The cast as a whole were brilliant, which certainly helps Stone and Parker get away with it.

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