My Book of Mormon: The Musical Post

July 12, 2011 | 13 comments
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I know I’m totally late to The Book of Mormon: The Musical party. The media has done it to death, the Bloggernacle has discussed it to death, and the Tonys awarded it to death. It’s provide huge amounts of press to the Church and at least one great interview on The Daily Show. I read most of the press obsessively for about a month. However, if I go to New York this summer (a small but distinct possibility), I probably won’t see it.

But not for the reasons that you might think. Or at least not entirely.

See, I don’t like musicals. During the seven or eight years I lived in New York, I probably saw four or five Broadway shows. Thoroughly Modern Millie (first wedding anniversary), The Man of La Mancha (brother-in-law was in town, he wanted to see it), Hairspray (rush tickets with my wife and another couple), Movin’ Out (more on that later). Oh, and In the Heights, because my sister’s firm took summer associates there and they had a couple extra tickets.

Of the shows we saw, Movin’ Out was probably my and my wife’s favorite. Movin’ Out was a musical featuring the music of Billy Joel (played by a rock band on a stage above the stage) and the choreography of Twyla Tharp (performed initially by the leads of several New York-based ballet and modern dance companies).

After seeing it, I started looking at the reviews in Time Out New York. (Note that the Time Out series of magazines have a bunch of separate review sections. Among other things, they have a section for food, for dance, for theater, for movies, for music, and for comedy.) The theater reviewers hated, hated, hated Movin’ Out. Their review was, essentially, Don’t see this show.

The dance reviewers, on the other hand, loved it. It was a starred review in the Dance section.

Which brings me to the idea of priors: our perception of things depends, in large part, on what we bring in with us. Why did the theater reviewers hate the show? My guess is because it wasn’t a very good Broadway musical. There was a guy above the stage who sang all of the songs. The show had a story line, but the dancers communicated it through their movement. If I remember correctly, in total, the people on stage said one line. There was no banter, no singing voice other than the pianist/singer’s, the sets and the action were impressionistic. It’s what you would get if you saw a modern dance piece set to a dozen and a half Billy Joel songs.

But the dancing and the choreography: they were spectacular. Twyla Tharp is an incredible choreographer, and the people on stage were some of the best dancers in New York, home of some of the best dancers in the world.

Remember how I said I don’t really like musicals? That’s probably part of the reason we liked Movin’ Out so much. I valued the music and my wife the dance. And the show didn’t do any of the things that musicals do that annoy us. But those same qualities are likely what annoyed the theater critics so much.

Ultimately, the reason I probably won’t go see The Book of Mormon is because all of the reviews rave about how, other than the profanity and the obscenity, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez have made a quintessentially Broadway musical. And, thanks to my priors, that’s really not what I want to see.

N.B.: Even though I’m using The Book of Mormon: The Musical as my hook, I’m not really interested in discussing whether it’s a good show (it apparently is), whether Mormons can, in good conscience, go see it (some apparently do), or whether, on the whole, it’s good for the Mormons or bad for the Mormons (yes). Those discussions have happened all over Facebook, blogs, emails, etc. Instead, I’m interested in how the preferences we bring with us affect how we perceive things, and whether there are any particularly Mormon preferences that affect our consumption of culture and stuff.

13 Responses to My Book of Mormon: The Musical Post

  1. danithew on July 12, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Sam, I’d have to agree with your take on this – though I have other reasons for not wanting to see it – reasons expressed elsewhere.

    I am not a big fan of musicals.

    I’m guessing I would have liked the Billy Joel production as well – since I’m a fan of his music.

  2. Mark B. on July 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Me too. I’m waiting for the opera.

  3. Jax on July 12, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Priors like “Men should have short hair” and “Don’t get tattoos” that make it so that when you see a biker you hope not to get eaten by his arm dragon tat or lost in his mane and the fact that both make you too uncomfortable to ask how he is doing?

    But you here him talk about his granddaughter in her the school play, his membership in BACA, or how his church volunteer’s at the homeless shelter and you realize he is not only human (grandfather) but does more for humanity than you do (BACA, community volunteer) and that if only accomplishments were listed HE would be picked as the better ‘saint’?

    Yeah, I think we all have ‘priors’ that affect us.

  4. Dan on July 12, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    In the Heights was excellent. We also loved Rock of Ages. If you do watch a show this summer, if you come back here to New York, I recommend that one. :)

  5. Bob on July 12, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Not NASCAR__I don’t think Mormons like NASCAR(?) They love Vegas and buffets.

  6. Ray on July 13, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Excellent insight about priors, Sam. We all have them, and we tend to equate them with immutable, eternal Truth – not just in the LDS Church, but everywhere.

    The best example I know is when an extreme Mormon is talking with an extreme anti-Mormon – or when an extreme Republican is talking with an extreme Democrat. The priors are so deeply imbedded that there is nowhere constructive for the discussion to go. The extremes are the obvious examples, but the same principle applies even for those who are nowhere near extreme.

    We all have blind spots – but we are blind to them.

  7. Sam Brunson on July 13, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Thanks, Ray.

  8. Mark N. on July 13, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    A nitpick, for sure, but it’s “Man of La Mancha” (as opposed to “The Man From UNCLE”).

  9. Sam Brunson on July 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Fixed. Thanks.

  10. Kent Larsen on July 13, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Mark B (2), I know of at least one Book of Mormon related Opera: Murray Boren and Glen Nelson’s The Book of Gold which premiered at BYU a few years ago.

    IIRC there have also been other treatments. BUT not on the major national stages, as far as I know.

  11. MikeInWeHo on July 25, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Check out a new review of the Book of Mormon musical over at By Common Consent:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2011/07/25/the-only-true-and-living-review-of-the-book-of-mormon-musical/#more-27745

  12. Sam Brunson on July 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Mike,
    Great review. Thanks.

  13. Tobin Vance on September 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    I know it’s crazy, but I LIKE discussions about religion. I like to be able to find out about other people’s epistemological views, the whole time trying to not let my Empirical mind yell so loudly that I don’t remember what was discussed. I call myself an agnostic, following the idea that “Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable.”
    That’s what The Book of Mormon is doing; asking metaphysical questions in the face of the awfulness and randomness of life and laughing about it without descending into nihilism. Good for them. We all should be able to laugh at ourselves.
    I’ve been a fan of South Park since it’s start, and The Book of Mormon is like a longer episode with better production values. Too bad you can’t see it on TV… yet.
    If you want to see the show for yourself, and I think you should, tickets can be found at http://amazonticketsonline.com/The-Book-Of-Mormon for the Eugene O’Neill Theater production in New York.

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