Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Book of Mormon (Broadway)

Elder Price (Nic Rouleau) and Elder Cunningham (Brian Sears) are all set to spread the good news of their religion to the world. As they await the announcement of their destination, the former couldn't help but fantasize about the location he's always had in mind: Orlando. When they find out that they are being sent to Uganda, both of them put on a brave face and are sent off with a Lion King inspired farewell at the airport. But Africa is not what they thought it would be. Welcomed with skepticism and ridicule by the very people they will try to convert, the two find an ally in Nabulungi (Nikki Renée Daniels), the daughter of the village chief who dreams about a better future away from such wretched place. Faced with the real life challenges of AIDS and military violence hounding the people of the village, the duo must endure the hardships in order to fulfill their mission, but do they have enough stamina and faith to do so?

If you are a big fan of South Park, then The Book of Mormon will leave you rolling on the floor laughing. It has Matt Stone/Trey Parker written all over it, from the plain absurdity of the dialogue to the deadpan reactions that just keep the ludicrous laughter going on for almost two hours straight. It does not end there because the clash of cultures also guarantees a fish out of water narrative that is neither sensitive nor considerate. If basking in dark humor is a sin, then we're all going to hell. We go to hell and we die.

Even the choreography and stage movement remind you of South Park. It's as if this would have been the end product if the cartoon had an onstage reimagining. But despite the similarities in terms of overall feel and brand of humor, The Book of Mormon succeeds in creating its own narrative hilarious enough to keep you gasping for air. At the same time, it also piques your curiosity about various topics, one being the principal branch of the Latter-Day Saints known as the Mormons.

Headquartered in Salt Lake City, members of this religious denomination have been ridiculed far and wide for their methods and beliefs since time immemorial. If you are not familiar with what they do and you are not based in the United States, then perhaps try to recall an instance in your home country when you or someone you know encountered a pair of white dudes in white short-sleeved shirts and black ties wanting to talk to you about God. In the vernacular. That, perhaps, is their most admirable trait. They really make an effort to learn the language. This aspect is not that obvious in the musical, though, and the no-holds-barred comedy is derived mostly from the stereotypes that we already know.

But the difference in culture also plays a big role in the punchlines as well as the evident comedy of errors that we get to witness. Maybe this is why the narrative reminds you of Borat somehow. We all know that it is a comedy and there's a significant level of artistic license involved. Maybe the best thing about it is that it gets you curious as to what is really happening in certain parts of the African continent that requires the attention of the world at large. Sure, it becomes a laughing matter in this musical, but at least awareness is also raised to some extent, arguably through the eyes of a privileged western audience.

But why are we being so serious here. The Book of Mormon is all about the laughs, and laughter it is you get. I've seen various comedies onstage both musical and not, but I've never witnessed an audience this engaged and gasping for air brought about by extreme amusement. I've always thought that Matt and Trey's offensive brand of comedy requires a niche audience, but this musical proves otherwise. In the end, you just enjoy it so much that you are left begging for more. The ticket was relatively more expensive than usual, but it was worth every dollar if only for the amusement that you get from beginning to end.

Of course, we need to give credit where it’s due. The cast members are amazing and you really get to appreciate the dedication they have in singing and belting absurd song lyrics without helplessly breaking into laughter. It takes a good actor to stay that serious and accomplish what needs to be done vocally when faced with such material. It also takes a good deal of charisma to evoke such reaction from your audience, so congratulations to Rouleau, Sears, and Daniels for a job well done.

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