This Show Will Change Your Life
As mentioned, Carolyn and I went to see The Book of Mormon the other night. Finding a place to stow one's auto around the Pantages Theater in Hollywood has never been easy and it got a whole lot worse recently when they started erecting an office building on what was formerly the largest nearby parking lot. So we went by subway. It was my first time ever on a Los Angeles subway but not Carolyn's so she steered us through what turned out to be a comfortable, easy way to get there and back. The train let us out directly across the street.
I think I heard too much about how wonderful the show was to the point where I was expecting something more than a good musical. Years ago, I had an adolescent friend who had been so inundated with imagery and others' enthusiasm for female breasts that when he finally got to touch one, it had to be and was a disappointment. Utter enchantment did not happen. He was not transported to a new level of ecstasy. It just felt good the way a lot of things in life feel good. That's how I sometimes feel with things that are too hyped and therefore too anticipated. So I won't tell you Book of Mormon is the greatest thing ever put on stage because, well, it's not. But it's real, real good.
My problem with it, and this is sure not a reason to not go, is that I really disliked everyone on stage. Not the actors…the roles they played. There's not one character in this show you wouldn't do everything possible to avoid in the real world. Apart from The Life (maybe), I can't think of a single other show where I so little wanted to spend time with "those people." Which I guess was the authors' point. I also felt a little bad for a few Mormon friends I have because the premise of this show is that their religion is a fragrant pile of crap and that you have to be a colossal idiot to not see that.
Still, I laughed a lot, especially in the first two numbers in Act Two. I liked the songs and I was never bored or fidgety in my seat, even for a moment. This was a National Touring Company which is at the Pantages through Thanksgiving, then it heads to San Francisco for a month, then to Portland for a few days. I believe a second N.T.C. is about to open in Chicago for six months. Given the size of the Cancellation Line the other night, the one at the Pantages could probably park there for another six months but it's a tour and the theater has this huge subscription season with many other plays and events lined up to come in. One is a Christmas show with Donny and Marie Osmond, which I guess is kind of the rebuttal to this one.
The two male leads at the Pantages are Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner…and I couldn't help but thinking that if I had to make up fictitious names for the characters they play, I'd name the Mormon played by Gavin Creel "Gavin Creel" and the Mormon played by Jared Gertner "Jared Gertner." Nevertheless, they were both terrific…and Mr. Gertner gave one of the best curtain speeches I've ever heard, urging us to donate on the way out to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It wasn't quite as funny as Jackie Hoffman's when I saw Xanadu in New York but it was probably more effective in prompting folks to cough up and shell out. If this guy had sold Mormonism the way he sold that charity, he'd have had a lot of converts.
Also, there was something very nice about meeting so many cast members who were out in the lobby in full costume after the performance, selling tote bags and collecting donations with fervor and passion. We bought two tote bags from a lady of stunning talent, Samantha Marie Ware, who played the female lead and was about as good in the part as I could imagine anyone being. Then we went and got on the subway.
I can think of a couple of folks who'll read this who probably shouldn't go see The Book of Mormon. Some of the language is pretty rough and the bringdown of a religion in which a great many people believe is rougher. I think it's healthy to not flinch in the least at that kind of thing and it's very American that a show like this can exist and thrive and win the Tony and play to packed houses that love it. A friend wrote me that he doesn't think it will have the staying power of a My Fair Lady or a Music Man and I wouldn't bet that it would. It's lacking in the "heart" department and I somehow don't see a lot of high schools and community groups staging their own productions. Still, it's damn funny and that sure counts for a lot.