Musical Musings: The Book of Mormon
Those who know me will tell you that my personality consists of: 10% annoying, 20% tired and 70% musicals. If *somebody* didn’t roll their eyes or sigh “UURGH stop, Alex” every time I start saying “You know that is a reference to the award winning musical…”, most of my contributions to actual real life conversations would be in show tune (don’t test me, I will do it). I have embraced this side of myself and invite everyone to do the same.
But enough about me, let’s move on to my actual point. Since I spend almost every waking minute thinking about musicals and have not had the urge to write something about one, I thought it just wasn’t going to happen.
UNTIL I went to see the touring production of The Book of Mormon in Cologne.
Let me paint you a picture: it is a Saturday, 2pm, Alex is walking towards the “theatre”, passing very nice people handing out flyers about the actual The Book of Mormon. Their PR team knows their shit, this much is clear. (I really wish they’d have sung the opening number right there on the street but alas.) As a well-informed musical enthusiast, I know that getting Mormon flyers is an essential part of the BoM experience, so I’m already off to a great start. That is the only anecdote you’re going to get, so paint the rest of the picture yourself, it’s not what I’m here for. My job is to freak out about the actual show. While I could theoretically summarize the whole show and its sub-textual meaning, which would result in this article being 8 pages long (plus annotations), what I’m instead going to do in this article/think piece/review/rant is pick out a few things that stood out to me and share my opinion on them as truthfully and succinctly as possible.
A disclaimer: I don’t actually know how to do any of this and this is just my humble opinion (but I am always right, ask anyone).
Let’s start with our two leading men, as diametrically opposed in character as possible. Elder Price, the perfect Mormon boy, top of the class ambitious and faithful. He is paired with Elder Cunningham to go on his two-year mission to Uganda, much to his disappointment. (ORLANDO, I LOVE YOU, ORLANDO.) Elder Arnold Cunningham is everything Elder Price is not: loud, clumsy, a nerd, a disappointment to his father (but not to us, sweetie, you’re perfect).
From my prestigious first row balcony seat I could have sworn that it was my man Andy Randy (Andrew Rannells) who went on stage to start the opening number as Elder Price, and not, in fact, Kevin Clay. This conviction did not change; the physical resemblance, judging from my prestigious balcony seat, was almost uncanny. His performance was, however, very much his own and soothed all my concerns regarding the songs. I have heard some renditions of I Believe that were… less than perfect, but Kevin Clay fucking went to town on that song and made me really appreciate it in a whole new way.
As for Elder Cunningham, I was more so worried about the comedic aspects of the performance than about the singing, which sometimes seems to take a backseat to the jokes. Here I have to say that I was incredibly surprised at Conner Peirson’s performance. Not only was the comedic timing perfect, his singing absolutely blew me away. All the aspects of the soundtrack where I have thought “oh I wish this was just the tiniest bit more serious/powerful/soft” were better than I could have hoped for. (As the kids used to say: cleared my skin, watered my crops…) And while his delivery of some of the comedic key moments had me laughing despite knowing the musical by heart, his performance was also convincing in more quiet and serious scenes. (My poor son deserves a friend.)
The entire cast was incredibly talented and gave amazing performances, but since I can’t make you read the aforementioned 8 pages, I’m going to give just one more shout-out.
Which goes to Elder McKinley, district leader of the Mormon mission in Uganda, played by Will Hawksworth. My favourite character in the show and always a comedic relief even though his arc and backstory are quite tragic if you think about it for longer than 5:03 minutes (the duration of Turn It Off, yes, I checked that). Hawksworth nails his part in this show-stopping number with the exact amount of “Haha I’m dead inside”-energy we all know so well. (Or is that just me?)
Since I usually just listen to the soundtrack, my “expertise” is largely based on extensive study of this very performance, so I notice any and every change, nothing can hide from me. Also, I tend to forget about the existence of the songs that are not featured on the soundtrack. What will now follow is a couple of quick-fire song “changes/additions” that stood out:
- What I will call Hasa Diga Eebowai (Reprise), sung by Nabulungi (Nicole-Lily Baisden). At a particularly heart-breaking moment in the show, this song does what reprises of first act songs are known to do: take a fun, upbeat song and use it to rip your heart out and crush it. (Yes, that is a reference.)
- Also not included on the soundtrack are the comedic bits that work as a sort of overture/entr’acte respectively. These short scenes sketch out aspects of the Mormon belief system, complete with Southern Jesus. No matter how much you prepare for it, you can never be ready to hear “I Aym Jeysus” lip-synced by a man in a glowing robe.
- I also completely forgot that scene transitions are accompanied by a repeated fragment of the last song. So, every time I started to feel sad because I won’t get to hear that song again in the show, this little melody surprised me (and reminded me that I own the soundtrack and really shouldn’t be that attached).
- I am Africa, sung by a bunch of white boys, is such a funny song on the soundtrack and is made infinitely funnier when you see it live. (They’re dressed in all white, they’re literally glowing.)
It’s mid-November, so usually I would be listening to Christmas songs or the Frozen Musical to get into the wintery, Christmassy spirit. I did not expect this production to prompt another obsessive burst that would lead to me listening to the songs on a loop for 36 hours.
This brings me to the end of this rant, the closing number, if you will.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: I know this show well. Like, obsessively well (it’s a musical so where’s the surprise), but seeing it live is a whole other experience. It’s always a great feeling when the touring cast, in Germany of all places, 8 years after the show’s Broadway opening, is at least as good as the Broadway cast – which is the case in this production.
Alex was listening to the “The Book of Mormon Original Broadway Cast Recording” while writing this. (I wish I was kidding.)