The Book of Mormon is exactly what you would expect it to be. Stone and Parker (South Park) teamed up with Lopez (Avenue Q) and made an old fashioned musical with modern irreverence. At least that’s what the critics and marketing say.
True, the music is poppy and catchy. The lyrics are funny if not particularly clever. So far I have listened to it once in a setting where I cannot devote 100% of my attention, but already I have heard very distinct musical references to the end of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray. On one hand, it makes you feel good to know that you can catch all these musical references; after all, it takes a certain depth of musical memory/knowledge to get all the references that the score makes. But on the other hand, it makes you a little sad to know that the most buzzed-up shows nowadays are simply satirically warped afterimages of previous works. Innovation by replication?
Perhaps that is how musicals have always been: retelling previously-written stories by adding music that evokes previously-written songs. Rogers and Hammerstein certainly did it. And The Book of Mormon certainly does it, too. But not all new shows have to be old hat. [Title of Show] requires a certain high level of musical theater geekiness that even I cannot claim, but its plot and music are more than predominantly original. Even Schwartz’s score to Wicked, although heavily pop music-influenced, still feels more original than the score to The Book of Mormon.
The Act II number, “Joseph Smith, American Moses,” is straight out of “Small House of Uncle Thomas” from The King and I, which, ironically enough, was yet another book-within-a-book. So some day the entire scope of musical theater will become a never-ending, ever-accelerating, vicious self-referential cyclone that ultimately consumes itself?
I hope that day has not already arrived.
But on the plus side, the numbers are really catchy, even in spite of the obviously over-autotuned Elder Price and the show’s superfluous, if entertaining, sensibilities.