About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Book of Mormon

Typically, when there's some hot new Broadway show where you need to buy tickets way far in advance and there are no discounts and etc., I wait. And wait, and wait, and wait. I live in New York City. Eventually in five years of fifteen years demand will drop. Tickets will be on TKTS. If I die before that happens -- well, if I'm dead, the fact that I missed a Broadway show will be the least of my worries. And it's New York, it's Broadway, you see the 12th replacement cast in the 9th year of the run, and odds are you're still going to see some pretty good stuff, The Phantom of the Opera is still chugging along well after Michael Crawford, you know.

Charlaine Harris was in town this week to do a special pre-signing of books for select bookstore accounts. She wanted to see Jersey Boys and The Book of Mormon. A good agent would happily choose to take the client to Jersey Boys, cheaper tickets, and let the publisher take to The Book of Mormon, expensive tickets. I guess I'm not a good agent. I'd already seen Jersey Boys, which is fantastic and I'd recommend it to anyone, but I'd seen it. I've been dying to see The Book of Mormon. And the availability update on the website suggested there might still be premium seats for the week in question. So I was forced -- forced, I say, forced !! -- to go get very nice seats to see this show I'd been dying to see. Sometimes, it's a hard life being a literary agent.

It was worth every penny.

The Book of Mormon is one of the best musicals I've ever seen, likely one of the best I will ever see.

Even with Elder Price being played by the understudy.

There is one flaw, if you will. The songs are excellent, lively, melodic, tuneful, all of that, but not anything like Tomorrow from Annie or Sunrise Sunset from Fiddler that will linger in the mind for 62.92 years after you've seen the show. You can bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow I will be able to hum "I Believe" to myself, to the extent of humming those two words, I will not be able to go deep into the verses through to the cobwebs and the sorrow.

No, two flaws. One number takes place in the departure lounge of the airport with the Elders on their way to their mission in Uganda, the set has the departure board at the gate listing the flight as bound for Uganda. I kept looking at that and thinking in any real airport I've ever been to the plane would be going to a particular city in Uganda, not to the country. It is hard for me to believe that the creators of the show are worried that nobody from Gulu or Jinja will want to come see the show if that sign had properly read "Kampala, Uganda" instead of just saying Uganda. I think we should start a petition to get that distraction changed.

I can't address the show from a Mormon perspective. If you want to read up on that, you can find a thorough and interesting annotation on "I Believe" from our client Bryce Moore by clicking here.

I can say that the interesting thing about this irreverent if not downright blasphemous or sacrilegious show is that it is ultimately reaffirming of the idea of faith. The co-leads are two Elders off on their Mormon mission in Uganda, one trim and good-looking and fervent and personable and all those things you want your Elder to be, the other rather less in regard to everything except his weight. The good Elder loses his faith, and this is a bad thing. The bad Elder gets the locals to enter the church by teaching them an "interpretive" version of the Book of Mormon, which version the locals proceed to act out before the mission's supervisors to their great dismay. But in our happy ending, we are told that even this version has offered something, a ray of hope or a path to a different life. And to me, the corollary to this is that if there is good to be found even in the bastardized teaching then surely there is more than that to be found in the real teaching. Furthermore, while the musical is clearly skeptical about Joseph Smith's discovery of the Book of Mormon, the musical as a whole and the "I Believe" song in particular must present some of the basics of Mormon teaching in order to have some fun with said teachings. It is well within the realm of possibility that there are people who will find it intriguing, their curiosity heightened, and then decide to explore further. There are worse things. The church is wise to have taken a measured response to the show.

The musical is sometimes considered to be one of the great distinct American contributions to world culture. I am struck in watching The Book of Mormon to see how closely it follows in that great American tradition, only so much better in so many ways than so many of its antecedents. The Book of Mormon has a great love song. It happens to be a long double entendre set against a baptism, it's absolutely hilarious and a thoroughgoing delight to watch. But in its essence, in its form and place and function within the show, it is every bit as much the classic American musical love song as Maria in West Side Story. Similarly, the lengthy musical number in which the Ugandans present their version of Mormon history and belief is a clear and direct descendant of the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" presentation in The King and I. With significant differences. That number in The King and I has limited relevance to the basic plot, it's long and dull and boring, we should all go and see it to appreciate the place of the musical in the history of the musical and blah blah blah. But honestly, I have no particular interest in spending my life going to see a lot of these classic shows with long dance sequences stuck in just because you need to have a long dance sequence, and since I will never be able to get that Whistle a Happy Tune thing out of my head I don't need to keep going to see The King and I for a refresher course in whistling happy tunes whenever I feel afraid. But I would happily go see The Book of Mormon again.

The Book of Mormon marches along from high point to high point. It doesn't have much of a plot, but it has imagination and wit and humor and good cheer. All of which are present in virtually every musical number. So the show just flies by. You can tell that the creators have seen every great Broadway musical at least 9 times, which is easy. What's way less easy but which these people have done, is to identify what makes the shows work instead of borrowing the bad elements. Hairspray it's not, Hairspray has a much stronger plot line but is ultimately kind of dull because it takes too much to heart the idea that every character should have a big number and not enough to heart that all those big numbers should really do something to move the story along instead of just being there and being big to attract ovations from tourists.


Bryce Moore said...

Amusing anecdote--when the "I Believe" number was on the Tonys, I talked to the Elders here in my hometown to see if they'd heard any fallout from it. One of their investigators had been on the fence about whether or not to get baptized. He saw the number on TV, and he was so inspired, he finally decided he should be baptized. Thought it was a message from God. (Clearly the finer nuances of the song were lost on him.)

I just got a kick out of the fact that in western Maine, somebody joined the church because of this musical. Thought you'd be amused, too.

Anonymous said...

I believe the only one I want to see is The Book Of Mormon! I am waiting for his discount tickets from Ticketpolice.com for that one!I have been going to Broadway since I was 13. LOVE IT!