Book of Mormon: The Musical

While in New York, Dave and I saw the Book of Mormon musical. We both had a good time and I'm really glad we went. We really liked several of the songs and have had them stuck in our heads ever since. Some of them seem almost Road Show-esque, reminiscent of the self-deprecating humor of Mormonism (eg., "I Believe"). Others are vulgar and outrageous, not necessarily to my taste, but fitting the ironic style of the producers (humor in irreverence).

I would not recommend the show to my Mormon friends and family, and these are the reasons why [spoiler alert]:

1) Obscenity - there's lots of it.
2) Blasphemy - the whole plot is centered around making light of what some consider sacred.
3) Inaccuracy - I couldn't help but notice every inaccurate detail, and I think this might bug a lot of LDS church members (for example, the missionaries in the play were not assigned destinations until after 3 months in the MTC)
4) Non-representative main character - one of the protagonists is also a compulsive liar, and I think some would question the relevance of couching his story in a Mormon context (since I think I can safely say that most missionaries are not compulsive liars).
5) Criticism of Mormon Culture - in my experience, Mormons are quick to make fun of themselves, but irked when the jokes come from outsiders.
6) Criticism of Mormon Theology - I believe this would be disheartening to Mormons, and considered as casting pearls before swine.

Any one of the above reasons would have been enough to put me off only three years ago. Yet, as an ex-Mormon, I found the production to be meaningful and thought-provoking. And these are my reasons why:

1) The protagonist was relevant as a type of Joseph Smith.

2) I believe in the validity and value of multiple perspectives.
We can talk until we're blue in the face about how we want people to see us. But at the end of the day, how others perceive us is out of our hands.

The Book of Mormon musical does not portray Mormons how they see themselves and it definitely does not portray them how they want to be seen. Instead, it is a portrayal by outsiders of how they see Mormons. Regardless of its favorableness, it is a valid perspective (if it weren't, the LDS church wouldn't concern itself with public relations).

And that's also why semantics and accurate details (see #3 above) are not critical to the success of the production - it's an extended Mormon joke, not a documentary.

3) Through humor and caricature, the musical identifies several real issues that exist in Mormonism. These include:
*ethnocentric dogma
*familial/social pressure to conform/achieve
*excessive and/or misplaced guilt
*disconnect between teachings/practices
*cognitive dissonance
*emotional repression
*sexual repression
*environment that claims to promote humility but rewards charm, charisma, and leadership

I do not think any of these issues is unique to Mormonism, but I do think they deserve attention within the Mormon context.

Overall, I think the producers did a fantastic job. They provided a valid perspective, using comedy to provide meaningful insights. The story is not my favorite, but it was an appropriate metaphor. I didn't love the obscenity and vulgarity, but the music/lyrics are fantastic and I will be acquiring the sheet music sometime soon.

8 comments:

Andrew said...

Great review... I have not seen the show, but I have heard the soundtrack and have seen a few scenes on YOutube.

I agree with your perspective that the commentary in the play could be said of most religions. My wife and I spotted a lot that applied to our evangelical upbringing

jen said...

I REALLY want to see it. I've heard the soundtrack, and several of the songs made me laugh REALLY hard and cry at the same time. (The Spooky Mormon Hell Dream was hilarious to me, but it was also so close to all of the crazy guilt I've felt, it made me cry.)

Avelino said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolina Lopes Barbosa said...

Loooking for something else I found your blog and since I´m also an "ex - mormon" I felt very curious.As you are giving your opnion, may i give my? You know, if there's something you don't agree, and i you felt that the church is not for you, wouldn't be the right thing to just step back? Sure there´s good things that you remeber about that time, and if you not just forget it. I don't understand why you keep reading articles and all that stuff if is not good for you. I don't go to church any more for personal reasons but i do respect who does, all my family for example. It was not good for me, but clearly is good for them, and so m happy for the church... not only LDS church, but any other where some can feel good and neer to God (or whatever they call it). I don't know why you create a blog for that, and don't understan when you post that you don't want people to question about your decisions, since you've created a blog. If you really want so, please, don´dt question other beliefs, respect them. Even when they don't do the same.

Sorry about my english, i'm not american =D

Wish you luck and happiness

simplysarah said...

Hi Carolina. I can appreciate your perspective, but I do not believe my thoughts and experiences are invalid simply because some find them unpleasant.

Quite simply, authenticity is more important to me than the good opinions of others. And that is why I blog my disagreement with other points of view (and allow others, like you, to do the same).

jen said...

Carolina - I know your question was directed to Sarah, but I want to give my answer too. Hope that's okay.

In an ideal world, I could just walk away: be grateful for the good, dismiss the bad, and just walk away. For me, years and years and years of believing that I was no good without the church, that no one would love or accept me if I left, the church was right and I was wrong, made it so I couldn't just walk away.

Other members clung to me with their talk of eternal salvation. I clung to the church with the hope that if I just changed ME enough, I could make it work. With all that clinging going on, the only way out was to fight like hell.

They say it takes the average woman seven times to leave an abusive relationship before she really gets out. Many women try to get out of the abuse, and leave once, but go back. Leaving the church was a lot like that for me.

I kept going back to read the articles, to see if maybe I shouldn't have left, to understand what I was feeling.

Anyway - I also agree with Sarah. Authenticity is important. Sharing my story is important. Even if it disagrees with others' story, in fact, maybe because it isn't the same.

simplysarah said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Jen. :)

The Book Of Mormon said...

As an ex-Mormon, I found the production to be meaningful and thought-provoking.Agreed