(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Reverend's Previews: You’ll Open Your Door to These Mormons

Ordinarily, people — especially GLBT people — don’t get excited when representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ring our doorbells. We may even quiet ourselves to give them the impression we aren’t home and pray they leave quickly. Whenever I see Mormon missionaries riding around my neighborhood on bicycles in their trademark starched white shirts and black slacks, I’m filled with oddly-mixed feelings of admiration for their obvious dedication to their faith, attraction to the cuter ones, and absolute dread.

How ironic, then, that theatergoers throughout California (myself included) are making plans to see The Book of Mormon during its West Coast premiere September 5th-November 25th at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. This simultaneously sacrilegious yet respectful musical by the irreverent creators of South Park and Avenue Q won nine 2010 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Direction of a Musical.

A veritable army of eager, fresh-faced LDS missionaries will be singing “Hello!” and taking over the historic Pantages stage in what Vogue called “the funniest musical of all time” and The New York Times anointed “the best musical of this century.” Among the show’s other unforgettable songs are “Two by Two,” sung by the newly paired-off evangelists as they embark on their missions; “Turn It Off,” a paean to self-control and avoiding temptation (including homosexual activity); “Joseph Smith American Moses,” a thinly-veiled homage to the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” number in The King and I; and the uproarious “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” of which the less is said, the better.

The Book of Mormon is primarily the brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who created, produce and largely voice the long-running animated TV series South Park. No strangers to musical numbers or incendiary topics, the duo has often skewered religious sanctimony and hypocrisy in the past. Their first, unexpectedly successful Broadway opus offends and delights in equal measure. Perhaps most surprising of all, the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at the center of the show has refused to condemn it and is instead embracing The Book of Mormon’s popularity as a sign of the church’s growing, mainstream acceptance.

As is also pretty readily apparent to viewers of South Park and The Book of Mormon, Parker and Stone have a definite gay sensibility. I assumed they were gay for several years until I learned they are both married (to women) with children. I had also assumed that Parker, at least, was a former Mormon based on how frequently he has mocked the LDS not only on South Park but in his earlier feature film Orgazmo. He isn’t, though, which makes it even clearer that Parker has done considerable research into Mormon history and practice.

The main action in The Book of Mormon follows two naïve missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, who are assigned to a war-torn, AIDS-ravaged community in Uganda. Quickly finding themselves in over their heads, they question their faith even as they grow in it and learn how best to evangelize the locals. Meanwhile, other missionaries in other parts of the world struggle with their repressed desires and forbidden attractions via song & dance.

Robert Lopez (Avenue Q) collaborated with Stone and Parker on the musical’s book and score, while Parker co-directed The Book of Mormon with Casey Nicholaw (who also choreographed the dance numbers). Los Angeles will mark only the second stop for the touring production following its debut in Denver this summer. The original Broadway production is still going strong.

As Parker and Stone commented when they learned that The Book of Mormon would be playing in LA: “We moved to Los Angeles twenty years ago to try and make it as filmmakers; The last thing we expected is that one day we would be bringing our Broadway musical here. It’s crazy and great.”

To purchase this fall’s hottest theater tickets, which are going fast, visit BroadwayLA website. Be warned: The show carries a not-to-be-taken-lightly "Parental Advisory" for explicit language, and no sacred cow goes un-tipped.

Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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