Sal Tlay Ka Siti!
Ok, so before I begin this post on The Book of Mormon, let’s get this out of the way now. This is a review of the show. The Book of Mormom has been running since 2012, so if you want to remain in the dark before seeing the show, leave now and come back after you’ve watched it.
The Book of Mormon kicked off its tour run in Salt Lake City on August 1st, and my husband and I were lucky enough to snag seats for opening night. Neither of us had any knowledge about the show going in, but we knew it was written by the creators of South Park and Avenue Q and that it was well reviewed (and had NINE Tony’s to boot). So with an even level of excitement and wonder we went to the Eccles Theatre in downtown Salt Lake City to see the show.
Salt Lake City
Now, a quick aside. My husband and I are not part of the LDS Church. We moved from the East Coast to Salt Lake about 2 years ago and have slowly acclimated to the unique culture that living in another religion’s “holy land” creates. We drink, swear, don’t plan on having children anytime soon, and hold rather liberal values. In short, we don’t fit the mold of Utah. BUT, that mold is changing the closer to downtown Salt Lake you get. I try to not harp too much on politics, because afterall, this is a blog focused on dancesport, however with a musical like The Book of Mormon coming to the very city and cultural epicenter that it satirizes, I think it’s important to understand the environment. The Salt Lake crowd was either going to be amazing, or terrible, and we weren’t sure which one it would be on opening night.
Luckily, the crowd was INCREDIBLE. It felt more like a rock concert at times than a Broadway musical. I read an interview with Gale Gibbs, the actor of Elder Price, who mentioned that the cast looks forward to coming to Salt Lake because of the crowd reactions. Jokes and jabs hit differently when the majority of the audience is living the reality of the satire. In Act I there is a beautiful solo, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti”,(Salt Lake City), and nearly every line of the song had a reaction from the audience. In the interview with Gibbs, he alluded to the fact that the cast has to rehearse differently when the show is in Salt Lake because they have to pause longer between lines to allow for the audience laughs or applause.
The Book of Mormon – On with the Show
Let’s start with the general premise. The story focuses on the mission experience of two Elders, polar opposite personalities, thrust into the hostile climate of Uganda. Elder Price is the classic “quarterback” character, full of ambition and of himself. Price is upset that Holy Father seemingly ignored his prayers to spend his mission in Orlando (cue not one, but two songs about the city). His mission partner, Elder Cunningham, fulfills to a tee the geek archetype. He is introduced as awkward, friendless, and has an “overactive imagination”. The story finds the two at odds, watches as Price loses faith, Cunningham comes into his own, and concludes with the two finding the real meaning of brotherhood and compassion. To facilitate this personal growth, the cast of characters in the Ugandan village is…..varied. We are introduced to a village oppressed by a war general with barbaric (by Western viewpoints) beliefs on women, a village in poverty and firmly entrenched in the AIDS epidemic, and a people that are unsurprisingly not excited at the prospect of being “saved”.
I’m just going to focus on a few songs that I found particularly well-aimed. The show opens with “Hello!”, which for anyone that has had Mormon brothers come to your doorstep, its quite well done. I was laughing by the second bar, and the whole audience lost it when midway in an Elder is repeatedly ringing a doorbell to no avail. “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is a fantastic example of setting an expectation and then hitting it out of the park. You could feel the audience waiting for the reveal of the English meaning of “Hasa Diga Eebowai”, and when it was EXACTLY what we all hoped it would be there was a huge roar from the every seat in the theater. For me the “Turn it Off” and “I Believe” landed perfectly. Not only are the both beautifully choreographed, lyrically they hit every note of criticism most have with the LDS Church. Without a doubt though, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” hit home for the audience. Whether you were a member of the church and have since left, or were never part of the church, the song from a hopeful young girl dreaming of a better place that happens to be the same place that you currently live in has a certain painful ironic ring to it. Salt Lake City, the land of unicorns and waterfalls indeed….
Finally we get to the dance numbers! Our seats were in the upper deck, which gave me a different perspective, seeing the dances from top down. The choreography was very well done, you can tell that its a touring company for a Broadway show. The lines were precise, the levels dynamic and moving, and there was a perfect balance between diversity of movement and clarity of focus. I never found myself distracted by the edges of the stage or by transitions. I was particularly impressed with the tap section in Act I. The choreography for “Turn it Off” was innovative and smart, using the idea of a clap off light to hide a quick costume change was brilliant and well executed. I also loved the concept behind the “Spooky Hell Dream”. I fault the execution ever so slightly as the prop work was off sync in a few spots (former color guard here, I understand how hard it is to get every line to hit correctly with a large group). I’d like to go back and see the production from straight on, as I’m sure that would give a different look and feel to the dance numbers.
So, should I see it?
If you have the opportunity to see The Book of Mormon, I highly recommend it. Word to the wise, it is written by the creators of South Park, so expect adult language and content. The Salt Lake City crowd really made the show for me, so if you can, try to snag a ticket before the tour ends in Utah. I was laughing from beat one to the ending curtain.