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An atheist's love letter to religion

Movie Review

By Steven Beynon
On January 27, 2014

"The Book of Mormon" manages to satirize, offend, evoke laughter, make powerful statements on religion and be heartwarming and irreverent simultaneously. The show brings in an average of $19.5 million every month, making it the most successful musical in four decades. The show also recently swept through last year's Tony awards, winning virtually every major award including: Best Musical, Best Actress and Outstanding Music.

Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of "South Park," and musical writer Robert Lopez, "The Book of Mormon" stems from Parker and Stone's huge success in writing music for "South Park"along with their satirical take on American exceptionalism,"Team America: World Police"(2004).

The show is certainly much more crude than what most Broadway goers are accustomed to seeing. There are plenty of subtle (and not too subtle) sexual references and vulgar language, yet, like the past few years of "South Park," the vulgarity isn't there for shock value like "Family Guy."

The musical tells the story of two Mormons on a missionary trip to Uganda to convert locals. The pair tries to share their religious text that they believe is the third part of the Bible, the Book of Mormon. Only one of the missionaries has actually read the book and the Uganda village is more concerned with the war, famine, AIDS and poverty that have always plagued them. The Mormons try to convince the villagers to seek help through Christ and slowly the pair question if faith is enough to combat serious problems.

"The Book of Mormon"certainly has the "South Park" flavor of sensibility and edge. The show argues for the absurdity of Mormonism, and that is arguably just a platform to lampoon against religion as a whole. On the surface, the entire musical satirizes organized religion and challenges the credibility of Mormonism.

"The Book of Mormon" manages to be gentle at the same time. Yes, it presents those of faith as cartoonish and gullible. For instance, in the song "I Believe," the protagonist is recovering his faith and sings, "And I believe God lives on a planet called Kolob, and in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!"

Those two statements are official stances the Mormon church takes and the character sings these lines as genuine beliefs, but the writers present them with a wink and nod to how silly the established church can be.

The Mormons are still presented as great and optimistic people who are just out there in the world doing their best. The ending is heartwarming and communicates that no matter how ridiculous or illogical religious doctrine might be, that doesn't take away from its power.

"The Book of Mormon"has potential be offensive, but it managed to be one of the most harmonious pieces of entertainment I've seen. Stone and Parker present religion far more endearing compared to Bill Maher. On the surface there are constant jabs at religion, AIDS jokes and the validity of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.

The show also flirts with the idea that religion is in a vicious cycle of reinventing itself to gain control over people. Upon further examination, nothing in the play comes off as malicious. Instead, it feels as if it's trying to communicate that while a lot of beliefs are silly, Mormons are still incredibly charming.  

I laughed at every song and joke, and appreciated the smart score. I walked away from "The Book of Mormon" with greater appreciation for Mormons. It commands the audience to still respect the religion. The musical is more of a friendly hazing than rude.

Stone and Parker continue to be the masters of crude humor while building a subtle and powerful punch line in the background.

Five stars. 


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