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weighing in on “Book of Mormon”

Went to see “The Book of Mormon” last night, with my kids. From its debut years ago in NYC, I’ve had doubts. How could they turn the Mormon religion – Mormon missionaries going to convert in Africa, no less – into entertainment? Would it be full of the crass, mocking satire I dislike in some modern comedies, Sacha Baron Cohen I’m thinking of you? And set to MUSIC? Despite its rave reviews worldwide, I continued to be dubious. But my offspring have always adored “South Park,”  the “Mormon” creators’ claim to fame, even managing to show me its merits, its powerful wit and slapstick humour, though it remains a bit too adolescent for my taste. (But still, the “Tom Cruise in the closet” episode was hilarious and clever, as were many others.)

So I got tickets for the 3 of us to see the show, largely because it takes a big event like this, or a birthday, to bring my adult children together, away from their busy lives – and now, for Anna, away from her baby. The three of us had dinner before and then sat expectantly, waiting – Sam in his seat nursing a free scotch, because of course one of the bartenders at the theatre was a friend of his.

Before I tell you what I thought, here are two reviews I took from the web, to show you the disparity of the critical response.

The talented and energetic cast does its best to breathe life into this
potty-mouthed mash-up of juvenile cartoon comedy and unimaginable Third World
danger and despair. God bless them, at times they even manage to infuse real
humanity and hope into a puerile book and lackluster score.
If you’re lucky enough to somehow have a ticket for
this, the most cryingly good night out to have come along for years, and are by
any chance looking forward to a smug few British-liberal hours sneering at the
mad imbecilities of self-righteous Americans and organised religion, I have to tell
you that you’ll be disappointed. The Book of Mormon is
far, far cleverer, far kinder, far more nuanced than that, and one of its many
surprises is that it sent an enraptured, ecstatic audience home with an odd
sense of having come, somehow, to really like
Mormons… a
night of unalloyed joy. The Observer

As for me – I agree wholeheartedly with the “Observer.” I loved it. It brilliantly walked the tightrope of satire, managing to show the absurdities and yet innocence of the religious faithful, the blind arrogance and yet endearing optimism and generosity of Americans in general and Mormon missionaries specifically … and in the bargain, we laughed like crazy and enjoyed absolutely fantastic music and dancing. Some of the best musical numbers ever. The whole thing had an inexplicable sweetness and, yes, sheer joy, even with, as the guy says, its potty mouth.

I can understand how a grownup who has never seen “South Park” would be unprepared for a musical in which one number involves Africans singing “Fuck you, God,” or for jokes about female genital mutilation and baby rape, or for a spectacular number about Mormon hell featuring Hitler, the murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, and Johnny Cochrane, O.J. Simpson’s lawyer. But it works a treat. Highly recommended – though that won’t do you much good, as I think it’s sold out for its entire run. We got tickets through the company manager, who’s an old friend. Lucky us.

Afterward, my son invited me for a glass of wine, so we went to Hey Lucy, a trendy bar on trendy King Street. I was amazed that we’ve come so far, this young man does not mind being seen in trendland with his old mother. We had a great talk about the show, about life. Lucky me.

And lucky me, again, this past Sunday, after my ride on the Don Valley trail, to spend the rest of the day blissfully alone. The usual – cooking while listening to Eleanor Wachtel, working, fiddling in the garden as the weather went hot, cold and wet, back and forth, all day long. In the evening, I watched one of my favourite programs, which was also my mother’s – “The Choir,” an English choirmaster (as was my mother’s father) in this episode organizing workplace choirs. The finale showed 3 choirs, one made up of nurses, doctors and office workers from the National Health, the second bosses and mail carriers from the Royal Mail and the third all levels of staff from the British Water Board (one bass, they told us, was a “leakage engineer,”) singing their hearts out, hugging each other afterwards in ecstasy. It made me sob, for the power of music to unite, inspire, infuse with joy. And also because not long ago, I would have called my mother afterwards, and we would have sobbed together.

The next day, I emailed my friend Douglas, who gave me a few singing lessons last year, and asked to come back.

Last night, Sam said, “Mum, hurry up and finish my inheritance, I mean, your memoir. And make sure to put in some wizards and some Mormons.” Will do. Maybe I’ll turn it into a musical, with a singing part for myself. Happy Old Bag #1.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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