I Believe

You might as well know this about me: I am a huge Broadway dork. It’s not even to the point where it’s funny or kind of cute. It’s mostly just annoying and socially awkward. For example, doing the Evita arm raise and singing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina every time I am on a balcony isn’t charming to those around me. And singing Carrying the Banner when I try on a newsboy cap in a public store makes those accompanying me embarrassed. Whatevs. Thems the breaks for someone with a specialty Playbill album that I had to order online from Ohio and pay $45.95 in shipping and handling fees for. Don’t be hatin’.

Me after failing to get Daniel Radcliffe’s autograph after “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. I’m the coolest.

Needless to say, this passion can be accompanied by a bit of pretension. I tend to feel alienated or annoyed by a show that I once enjoyed, simply because it grows exceedingly popular. I had the pleasure of seeing Wicked in New York during the first year of its run. I initially loved it. But as years passed and the amount of Youtube videos of 38 year old accountants singing Popular grew, I lost my taste for the over-hyped Schwartzepic.

I assumed this “oh thaaaat musical. Yeah, I got in the ground floor of that shiz, original cast all the way and now I’m over it” shtick would be the same when I saw The Book of Mormon. After all, it’s not exactly a small, low-key little show. Conceived by South Park wunderkinds Trey Parker and Matt Stone, scored by Avenue Q hot-shot Robert Lopez, and produced by Hollywood big wig Scott Rudin, it wasn’t exactly a sleeper hit. However, I was one of the lucky few who got to see it in its first month of production in New York, before buzz and Tony wins ruined the ticket prices and the fun. Yeah, the informational segment of this blog has now transitioned into pretentious bragging, just fyi.

I naturally assumed that as soon as the inevitable huge Tony nominations and subsequent wins came for the not-so-little show that could, I’d immediately be sick of it. But please, let me be the 8 millionth person to tell you how amazing this show is. Seriously, it defies the coolness expiration date that most Broadway a-holes such as myself subscribe to.

The basic story, for those living on a rock or for those who don’t know the difference between Broadway and Off-Broadway (sorry, I’m the worst),  is of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, two 19 year old Mormons, sent to Uganda on a Mormon mission. Needless to say, hilarity ensues. However, not in the way you would expect.

When I first heard the concept and team behind The Book of Mormon back in ’08 (I’m so sorry, I’m just the worst), I didn’t know how it would work. After all, a big-budget, traditional Broadway musical doesn’t exactly mesh so naturally with Parker and Stone’s patented poop humor and veiled atheism. I initially assumed that it would be a two hour, expensive, well-produced Saddam Hussein reference. I assumed it would condemn Mormonism and organized religion altogether in one blaze of glorious farting. I thought it would be cynical and crude and awkwardly crammed into a traditional Broadway format. Boy, was I wrong.

Yeah, I suppose it was all that. It had some poop jokes, some famous dictator jokes, it was cynical about religion. But somehow, it was also one of the most joyous and hopeful shows I have ever seen. It somehow managed to be a typical South Park off-shoot, as well as a critique of blind faith, as well as a celebration of the endurance of the hope in the face of unimaginable horrors, as well as a traditional Broadway musical that paid homage to the medium’s past greats, all at the same time. Parker, Stone, and Lopez managed to make a show that unabashedly spoke the terrifying truths of Aids, famine, female castration, and genocide while still making it funny, hopeful, full of Broadway glitz and originality. How does this happen? How, I ask you???? (That was mostly directed at Stephen Sondheim, who I assume reads my blog weekly).

Anywho, I’m being super original here in urging everyone to pay the now exorbitant but well worth it ticket  prices and go see this show. The national tour is set to kick off in Denver in December ’12, four months early. Hopefully it will make its way to Winnipeg and we can all bask in the glory that is this incredible feat of cynicism and optimism. I’ll be there with bells on, while still reminding anyone who will listen that I got to see it original cast. Yeah, I’m the worst.

Am I just the worst? Please tell me. Comment, comment, comment!

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6 comments on “I Believe

  1. Matt says:

    I don’t think you’re wrong to get weary of most musicals. Because hey, most musicals are shallow! Their production values and hype cover for bad acting and often TERRIBLE storytelling. Which just isn’t the case with The Book of Mormon. Even listening to the soundtrack (which I have to live with, not being the globetrotter you are – jealous) there’s a world of heart and sincere questioning packed into that show.

    Fingers deeply crossed it comes to Winnipeg. Where my hopes are less high for Grumpy Old Men: The Musical.

    • Katherine says:

      Woah woah woah, don’t be talkin’ about my boyfriend like that. I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as weary of musicals. They are the loves of my life. They are my children. For example, “Grease 2” is a musical that only a mother could love and boy do I love it. (Srsly, check out Michelle Pfeiffer singing “Cool Rider”. You will not be dissappointed). I don’t totally agree with your statements about them being shallow, poorly acted, and poorly produced. There are some that are like that, for sure. But the medium in itself can be a joy when done correctly, like any form of theatre. But I can understand that they aren’t for everyone. Thanks for sharing, Matt!

    • Ryan says:

      Matt, be careful not to degrade an entire art form in one fell swoop. Here is a way to put your weariness aside: Sunday in the Park with George, Caroline or Change, Follies, A Little Night Music, Light in the Piazza, Scottsboro Boys and Adding Machine. These are just a few examples (and may I suggest even stronger ones than Book of Momon). Perhaps you may want to differentiate commercially successful musicals with artistically rewarding ones before suggesting that “most” are shallow and over-produced — that’s a lazy, cliched assertion.

  2. Jackie says:

    You are definitely not alone – I believe that musicals are soul food. I had my first glimpse of one this past summer with Catch Me If You Can. They really take musical theatre to the next level.

    Also, totally jealous that you got to see The Book of Mormon. Really cool insight on the play, I’ll have to live vicariously through you for the time being!

  3. Matt says:

    Mea culpa! (waves white flag)

    In explanation – I don’t believe all musicals are bad! I love a great musical as much as the next guy. Maybe more so, given my awe of people who are musically gifted.

    I did say “most musicals are shallow” and I’ll stand by that, though. You’re absolutely right to point out some musicals as great ones (I’d add Assassins, Avenue Q, maybe Fiddler to your list… actually almost anything by Sondheim). But I’d go as far as to say -the majority- do not have strong plots, three dimensional characters or deep social relevance.

    That doesn’t make them terrible at all – I’m very willing to be blown away by a blowout, pyrotechnic infused song-and-dance. But a musical without plot, character and relevance will get tired after awhile. I think anyways…

    (ducks back behind wall, resumes waving flag)

  4. Melanie Lee Lockhart says:

    As badly as I wanted to see it before, I want to see it even more badly now. Great post!

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