I saw a lot of theatre last year – I’ve seen a lot of theatre in my life, for that matter – and none of it has captured my heart as utterly, thoroughly, and immediately as the Chicago cast of The Book of Mormon, which became the 2nd National/Jumamosi Tour. Don’t get me wrong: Wicked on Broadway was magical, and it’s still probably tied with BOM for my favorite musical (and the Emerald City tour with Alison Luff and Jenn Gambatese really was terrific), but The Book of Mormon was life-changing. Nic Rouleau and Ben Platt (as Elders Price and Cunningham, respectively) were – and presumably still are, since they’re now reprising their roles on Broadway – perfection.
My first exposure to BOM was through the 2011 Tony Awards, watching Andrew Rannells sing “I Believe.” I was so in love with the song – the music, the deceptively hilarious lyrics, the sound of his voice, the earnestness of his demeanor – that I listened to it on repeat constantly. I didn’t think anyone could possibly live up to him. I bought the soundtrack, but it didn’t grab me for some reason. “Hasa Diga Eebowai” might have been a bit much by itself. And in all honesty, even though I’m sure Josh Gad was terrific (he was nominated for a Tony, after all), his Elder Cunningham irritated me. Something about the quality of his voice, perhaps, (which is odd because I adored him as Olaf in Frozen), so I came to the show predisposed to dislike Elder Cunningham.
But then I saw the The Book of Mormon in Chicago, on September 14th and October 4th of last year, and I fell in love. As soon as Nic Rouleau appeared on stage, I forgot about Andrew Rannells. To be honest, it probably helped that he’s so gorgeous, but I love his voice, and I really like his take on the character. I think he’s more expressive than the original. And Ben Platt! Oh my god. Not only does he have an incredible voice, but his take on the character is so endearing. Funny and sweet and vulnerable, yet also outrageous in a still believable way. I couldn’t help but rooting for him. I loved Elder Cunningham, which completely took me by surprise.
Pierce Cassedy was terrific as Elder McKinley – he was instantly one of my favorite characters – and he’s also beautiful, which is never a bad thing. Syesha Mercado played Nabulungi (and continues that role on Broadway), showing that apparently some people from American Idol can successfully transition to Broadway musicals (Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young did not convince me in the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat national tour last night, although possibly that’s because they didn’t have much with which to work).
I think Robert Lopez is amazing (and clearly, I’m not the only one, since he is both the youngest person to ever receive an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony, and the only person thus far to do so in just ten years) – I loved seeing Avenue Q on Broadway, and I adore The Book of Mormon. It’s fresh; it’s funny; it feels like something new. It’s hilarious, and the songs are really catchy, but they’re also clever, and the show just has so much heart and depth. The characters feel multi-dimensional and real, more so than in many other musicals, even though The Book of Mormon is, to be honest, mostly known for being comical and/or offensive.
Yes, there’s a lot of swearing (although it doesn’t really seem gratuitous), and parts of the show really pushed the boundaries of acceptability and left me questioning whether they actually just went there (allusions to . . . frogs and babies . . . as well as General Butt Naked, the Lost Boys of Sudan, and the Amistad; the choreography regarding Elder McKinley and Hitler; etc.). That said, I think there was something self-aware about all of it, closer to satire than anything else, perhaps. I actually felt more offended by Ghost the Musical than by BOM (and definitely more offended by “Giving Back the Love Inside”).
I just really love The Book of Mormon. And I think Nic Rouleau and Ben Platt are pretty much flawless. “Life-changing” might be a slightly hyperbolic way of describing BOM, it’s true, but it really was the catalyst for a shift in how I approach life. One of my biggest music/theatre-related regrets is that I only saw The Book of Mormon twice, despite the fact that it was here for nearly a year. That regret made me determined to no longer miss out on theatre, and it made me realize that I can see shows more than once in a run (prior to BOM, the only shows I’d seen more than once were shows connected to someone I knew). Somehow, that had never previously occurred to me.
After that decision, I saw Wicked four times while it was here for a month and a half, and I bought two sets of Broadway in Chicago season tickets. I’m seeing ten shows this March. Yes, this is helped by the fact that I now have a stable job and so can afford to purchase more tickets now (and also helped by Goldstar and the fact that season subscriptions are often significantly less expensive than individual tickets). But The Book of Mormon reminded me how much joy theatre brings me, especially musical theatre, and so I have re-prioritized theatre in my life.