Would you like to change religions? I have a free book written by JESUS!

What if we told you that we woke up at an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning, to sit on a sparkling clean New York sidewalk for six hours, to pay $27 to stand for another two-and-a-half hours, just to see a show? You, dear readers, might admire us for our dedication...or you might deem us certifiably insane. Either way, we had a grand time doing what was necessary to finally see The Book of Mormon, this year's biggest Tony winner, sweeping the night with nine awards including Best Musical. Seriously, what's not to love: sleep is for the weak, we met some fantastic fellow rushers in line, the price of our tickets were a LOT less than $150 each ($27, to be exact), and the view from our standing room spots at the back of the orchestra were superb.

(Note: standing room tickets are only available when the show is completely sold out. Fortunately, The Book of Mormon is sold out until kingdom come - literally, they're selling tickets far beyond when Hillary and I will graduate next year - so if you're willing and able to get to the theater early enough, it's a fantastic opportunity to more or less guarantee yourself a ticket. We think it's awesome that the show's producers have left this option for those of us who can't quite afford to buy a premium ticket.)

Oh, and the show actually lived up to every single bit of the hype that we've been hearing since it played its first Broadway preview in February.

The fact that The Book of Mormon is the brainchild of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with music and lyrics by Avenue Q's Robert Lopez, should give you a pretty good idea of where the show's material is headed. To be completely honest, I am not a fan of South Park - more specifically, I don't think I've ever watched an episode of South Park. It's just not something that's ever appealed to me. And I'll admit to being one of those people who always associated South Park with unnecessarily crude humor, with no basis for doing so. That said, The Book of Mormon is by no means, to quote [title of show], "two tight paragraphs on kittens that your grandma would be so proud of." (Although, much to our surprise, there were many blue-haired ladies in the audience at the show we attended...and they were laughing just as hard as we were.) To illustrate more clearly, we present to you a recent conversation that took place between Hillary and her mom:

Mom: "So why is The Book of Mormon inappropriate for your younger brother?"
Hillary: "Uh.........there's a lot of swearing.......and they use the word 'clitoris'. A lot."
*crickets*

But again, that said, the comedy in this show is 1) a nearly unbroken stream of laughs, and 2) really smart. Even though The Book of Mormon is the first show we've ever attended where the words "explicit content" were printed on our tickets, neither of us felt offended by the material or language used in the show. At first it was a liiiiittle disconcerting to hear AIDS used as a subject of humor...especially only a few weeks after seeing The Normal Heart...but it immediately became apparent that AIDS, and the "c-word," and the meaning of "Hasa Diga Eebowai" which we won't spoil for you, and making fun of Mormonism, was done in such a way that it was contained completely within the world of the story. To us, at least. This is definitely a show that won't appeal to close-minded people - but if you're willing to take a step back and appreciate the irony, sarcasm and hilarious truths employed by the story, you'll be shaking with laughter throughout.

Speaking of laughing like hyenas, we are SO GLAD we forcibly restrained ourselves from listening to the cast recording before seeing the show! While the jokes and puns within the score are really only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of "lines that will make you laugh until your eyes start to water," it was really worth the effort to go into the show as blind as possible. Now that we're listening to it nonstop, we've realized just how good the score is - not that we didn't enjoy it in the theater, but perhaps we were too preoccupied with laughing our asses off to truly appreciate it. Parker, Stone and Lopez work completely within the range of traditional musical theater structure, simultaneously honoring and making fun of the form, and it totally works. (U2 should have taken a hint from this when crafting the score for Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.)  The only problem? I can't really let myself listen to the cast recording in public, even with my headphones in, because 1) people would look at me cackling like a crazy person and think I was a crazy person, and 2) a large portion of the lyrics are in no way appropriate to have stuck in your head and then start humming under your breath/belting out in the car at a red light when your windows are down and the driver in the car next to you can hear you. Nope, that's never happened.

In addition to the comedic aspect, the heart that lies beneath the laughs beats loud and clear, bringing the characters' stories full-circle and leaving us feeling fulfilled as audience members. And while Hillary and I would rather see the Tony love spread to multiple shows, rather than heaped all on one show, it was immediately obvious after seeing the show that The Book of Mormon is such a solid, tight production, all the way around, and any resentment we had over the show's awards sweep dissipated instantly. The cast just clicked; excellent direction was obvious from the show's pacing; the sets, sound, and lighting were all immaculate; and the score is fantastically layered, in both lyrics and orchestrations. It was incredibly fascinating to see Mormon the day after attending a performance of Spider-Man, because both shows opened on Broadway with no out-of-town tryout...and to say that they received COMPLETELY different responses is a drastic understatement.

As Mormon's two leading men, Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad are cast so perfectly in their roles that it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. Rannells, as an overly-optimistic (and maybe a bit naive), never-do-wrong, confident young Mormon, wants nothing more than to spread the word of God through his faith (ideally fulfilling that duty in a certain Floridian city). Gad, as an overly-optimistic, always-do-wrong, awkward-yet-lovable young Mormon, has the same goal, but needs a bit more guidance along the way as to what the Book of Mormon actually preaches. In a predictable turn of events, the two misfits are paired together on their mission, and the evolution of their friendship becomes the heart of Mormon's book. Both men's voices are incredible, with Rannell's belting strongly and smoothly and Gad's unexpected range especially blowing me away. Many of the show's funniest moments come from each actor's impeccable comedic instincts as well as the pair's juxtaposed physical appearances (with Rannells as squeaky-clean as Barbie's steadfast mate and Gad as the slightly plump nerd character). While neither took home a Tony for his efforts, I thought that the true highlights of both of their performances came when they played off each other.

Over in the realm of supporting actors, Mormon has also achieved near-perfect casting. The visual of a clean-cut, cookie-cutter ensemble of young Latter Day Saints or tribal African villagers is hilarious in itself - let alone watching them break out into a full-on tap number complete with sparkly pink vests and a Clapper. Said number was a showcase for Rory O'Malley as Elder McKinley, a shy young Mormon struggling to repress thoughts of homosexuality; his scenes were some of my absolute favorites in the show. Nikki M. James as Nabalungi, the ever-optimistic and wide-eyed daughter of the tribal chief, also delivered a performance that was impossible not to root for. While we personally still would have given the Supporting Actress Tony to Laura Benanti (she's just ridiculously talented/unabashedly honest/perfect, okay?), James' work onstage made it easy to fall in love with her. The difference between the two awesome ladies? Benanti was wonderful in a not-so-good show, James was wonderful in a great show.

If you really break it down, all religions have a component or two that seems a little extreme or just plain weird. No offense to any Mormons who might happen across our humble blog, but some parts of their canon are absolutely hilarious. God lives on a planet called Kolub? The Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, Missouri? In 1978 God changed his mind about black people? All are mentioned in the show (in just one song, to be more specific), and all are based on actual Mormon beliefs and historical happenings. Not to be discriminatory, however, the show pokes fun at other religions too (i.e. believing something "just....'cuz"), and SO many different groups of people that it would take all the fun out of it to list them all here. But strangely enough, Mormon's conclusion doesn't leave audiences thinking that atheism is the last hope (although there's nothing wrong with atheism either). Somehow, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham learn that a common belief such as religion can bond people together and lift them up like nothing else - just as long as those beliefs aren't always taken so literally.

If I remember correctly, Broadway has not seen a production with as much well-directed hype as Mormon has received since 2001's The Producers. There's no question that this runaway hit will be around for quite a while. So try your luck at the lottery, get comfortable on the sidewalk outside the Eugene O'Neill, or shell out the big bucks for a premium ticket - but definitely keep this one on your list, even if it takes you a Latter Day or two to get there.

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