By PAUL GESSELL
There is nothing sacred in The Book of Mormon.
Likely Ottawa has never laughed so hard. There’s a campy Christ; a Hitler disco-dancing in Hell; a murderous African warlord with a name too racy to repeat here. OMG!
This Tony Award-winning musical from the company Broadway Across Canada, and which is currently playing onstage at the National Arts Centre from July 15-27, is perhaps the most politically incorrect production to pass through town since the tart-tongued, cross-dressing Dame Edna Everage last visited, tossing gladioli and insults at the audience. Mormons are mercilessly caricatured in this musical. Ugandans are racially stereotyped. Baptism assumes sexual overtones.
It is difficult not to feel guilty laughing at all the jokes. After all, the jokes are mainly at the expense of people who are pretty serious about their religion.
I kept thinking: What would a Mormon think of this? So, once home, I Googled that very question and found news stories quoting some supposedly important Mormons as saying that the success of The Book of Mormon during the last few years has increased interest in the religion and people are now more likely to answer the doorbell when two fresh-faced, young men in white shirts and black ties come calling with promises of everlasting paradise. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has even been known to buy ads in playbills of The Book of Mormon.
“People will become more aware that we’re a Christian church, that we’re not a cult, and that we don’t force our views on anyone, but that we’re happy to share them with those who are interested,” Elder Steven Bennion, a top church official, is quoted as saying.
Now, that makes me feel better. It’s great to have a religion with a sense of humour — which isn’t always the case. Back in 1979, there was outrage from various pockets of the Christian community over a movie caricaturing the life of Christ in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And we all know about the sense of humour demonstrated by fatwa-invoking Muslim ayatollahs.
The plot of The Book of Mormon involves two naïve young American men — Mormon missionaries — who are sent to rural Uganda. The Ugandans aren’t interested and the missionaries make no converts until one of the young Americans spices up the evangelizing by adding elements from science fiction and The Lord of the Rings. For example, sinners in Mormonland get sent to The Fires of Mordor. The Ugandans become intrigued. They get baptized. And that’s when the problems really begin for the two Mormon missionaries.
In the end, this is a feel-good musical in the vein of Hairspray — except in The Book of Mormon, it’s a fat boy, not a fat girl, who emerges as the hero.
It is simply a perfect production. The songs are catchy. The dance numbers rock. The set changes are magic. Everybody leaves happy. As fat-boy Elder Cunningham would say: “Have a great Latter-day!”