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The Book of Mormon

201103

A religious satire musical in 2 acts: Book, music and lyrics by by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez.

Eugene O'Neill Theatre, Broadway - 24 March, 2011, (previews from 24 February, 2011)

Synopsis

The Book of Mormon follows a pair of mismatched Mormon boys sent on a mission to a place that s about as far from Salt Lake City as you can get.

In the present day, two mismatched Mormon missionaries are sent together to Uganda, Africa. Elder Cunningham is an insecure, overweight, irritating liar, while Elder Price is a devout, enthusiastic, handsome, pompous, over-confident fellow. There, they see people living in appalling conditions of famine, poverty and AIDS, who are ruled by a despotic, murderous chieftain. The native Ugandans curse their existence (saying, "Fuck you, God!"). Several other missionaries already in the country have been unable to convert the locals to Mormonism. The Ugandans cope with their miserable lives by feigning happiness.

Price is certain that he can succeed where the other Mormon Elders have failed. The Ugandans find him arrogant and are not impressed. Soon, Price wishes to be sent elsewhere, like Orlando, Florida. Cunningham, unhappy with Price, finally takes the initiative. The local leader's daughter, Nabulungi, wants Cunningham to take the whole village to "Salt-e Lake City", where they can find fortune and avoid the horrors of rape, genital mutilation and murder. Cunningham lacks much knowledge of the Book of Mormon, but he makes up stories that combine what he knows of Mormon doctrine with bits and pieces of science fiction and other cultural ideas, many of them unsavory.

The villagers are enchanted; they are baptised and accept Mormonism. They gain the confidence to resist the despot, who also finally converts. Price is astonished to learn that the importance of religion is not truth, but whether it helps people. Ironically, his faith, and that of the other missionaries, is revitalized, and they stay to help the village.

Story

Act I

At the LDS Church Missionary Training Centre in Provo, Utah, a devout, handsome, and supercilious missionary-to-be, Elder Kevin Price, leads his classmates in a demonstration of the door-to-door attempt to convert people to Mormonism. One of the missionaries, Elder Arnold Cunningham, is an insecure, overweight, incorrigible nerd and a compulsive liar who is completely hopeless at sticking to the approved dialogue. Price believes if he prays enough, he will be sent to Orlando, Florida for his two-year mission, but to his shock he and Cunningham are sent to Uganda as a pair. After saying goodbye to their families, the elders board a plane at the Salt Lake City airport. Price is sure he's destined to do something incredible (on his own), while Cunningham is just happy to have a best friend – one he met just the previous day and who, due to mission rule #72, literally cannot leave him alone except to go to the bathroom.

Immediately upon arrival in northern Uganda, the two are robbed at gunpoint by soldiers of a local warlord, General Butt-Fucking-Naked (an allusion to the real General Butt Naked). They are welcomed to the village by Mafala Hatimbi and a group of villagers share their daily realities of living in appalling conditions of famine, poverty and AIDS, while being ruled by a despotic, murderous chieftain obsessed with female circumcision. To make their lives seem better, the villagers constantly repeat the phrase "hasa diga eebowai" and sing to the tune of a song composed around that phrase. Price and Cunningham join them in the song but are horrified to find out "hasa diga eebowai" translates to "Fuck you, God" in English and the villagers constantly blaspheme to cheer themselves up.

Afterwards Nabulungi, Hatimbi's daughter, shows Price and Cunningham their living quarters where they meet the fellow missionaries stationed in the area, who have been unable to convert anyone to Mormonism. Elder McKinley, the district leader, teaches Price and Cunningham a widely accepted method of dealing with the negative and upsetting feelings brought on by the challenges of Mormon life (including McKinley's own repressed homosexual thoughts), inviting them to "turn it off like a light switch". The others agree their feelings must be hidden at all costs. Though Price is riddled with anxiety, Cunningham reassures him he will succeed in bringing the native Ugandans to the church.

Price is certain he can succeed where the other Mormon elders have failed, teaching the villagers about Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church through a song that begins as a tribute to Smith but eventually descends into a tribute by Price to himself. The villagers do not show any interest in the slightest as they find religion useless and Price arrogant and annoying. Shortly after Price's attempt to dazzle the villagers, General Butt-Fucking-Naked arrives and announces his demand for the circumcision of all female villagers by week's end (as his paranoia has led him to believe that all of the clitorises in the village will "power up" and destroy him). After a villager protests, the general executes him without warning, splattering Price with blood. Safely hiding back at home, Nabulungi, is moved by Price's promise of an earthly paradise and dreams of a better life in a new land.

At the mission headquarters, Elder McKinley flies into a panic after he receives a message saying the Mission President has requested a full progress report on their utterly unsuccessful mission and his anxiety is only worsened after he learns of Price and Cunningham's failure. Shocked by the execution and dark reality of Africa, Price decides to abandon his mission and requests for transfer to Orlando while Cunningham, ever loyal, assures Price he'll follow him anywhere. However, Price unceremoniously dumps him as mission companion. Cunningham is crushed and alone, but when Nabulungi comes to him, wanting to learn more about the Book of Mormon and having convinced the villagers to listen to him, Cunningham finds the courage to take control of the situation for the first time in his life.

Act II

Cunningham has never actually read the Book of Mormon, so when his audience begins to get frustrated and leave, he quickly makes up stories by combining what he knows of Mormon doctrines with bits and pieces of science fiction. Cunningham's creative stories relate to the problems of living in a war-torn Uganda, which gets the people listening. Cunningham's conscience (personified by his father, Joseph Smith, hobbits, Lt. Uhura and Yoda) admonishes him, but he rationalizes that if it is to help people, it surely can't be wrong.

Price joyfully arrives in Orlando but then realises that he has no memory of getting there and that he is dreaming. He reflects on the misdemeanours he committed in his childhood, including blaming the theft of a pastry on his brother, Jack. He is reminded of the nightmares of hell he had as a child and he flies into a panic when his nightmare begins once again. Price is plunged into hell, where he is tortured by demons, the spirits of Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Genghis Khan and Johnnie Cochran and dancing cups of coffee.

Price awakens from his nightmare and, terror stricken, decides to re-commit to his mission (to the complete lack of surprise of the other elders, who have all had the hell dream too.) Cunningham arrives and announces ten eager Ugandans are interested in the church, but still stung by Price's rejection, he is unwilling to let Price back into his life. McKinley points out that unless the general is dealt with, no one will convert. Price, seeing the chance to prove his worth, is inspired and sets off on the "mission he was born to do". After re-affirming his faith, he confronts the general with the Book of Mormon in hand, determined to convert him. It doesn't end well and Price is next seen in a doctor's office, having the Book of Mormon removed from his rectum.

Cunningham concludes his preaching and the villagers are enchanted; they are baptized and accept Mormonism, with Nabulungi and Cunningham sharing a tender moment as they do. The Mormon missionaries feel oneness with the people of Uganda, and celebrate. Meanwhile, the general hears of the villager's conversion, and fearing that the Mormons will "power up their clitorises" to destroy him, he resolves to kill them all.

Price drowns his sorrows in numerous cups of coffee at a café in Kitguli, where Cunningham finds him. He tells the bitter Price they need to – at least – act like mission companions, as the Mission President and other senior Mormon leaders are coming to visit the Ugandan mission team to congratulate them on their progress. After Cunningham leaves, Price bitterly reflects over all the broken promises the Church, his parents, his friends and life in general made to him.

At the celebration, Price and Cunningham are singled out as the most successful missionaries in all Africa. Shortly thereafter, Nabulungi and the villagers burst in, and ask to perform a pageant to "honour [them] with the story of Joseph Smith, the American Moses, which reflects the distortions of standard Mormon doctrine and embellishments put forth by Cunningham which include Joseph Smith having sex with frogs to cure his AIDS and battling dysentery. The Mission President is appalled, ordering all the missionaries to go home, and telling Nabulungi she and her fellow villagers are not Mormons. Nabulungi, heartbroken at the thought that she will never reach paradise, curses God for forsaking her. Cunningham is distraught at his failure, but Price has had an epiphany and realizes Cunningham was right all along; though scriptures are important, what's more important is ensuring religion helps people. Reconciled, they race off to rescue Nabulungi and the villagers from the general.

Still angry at Cunningham, Nabulungi tells the villagers he was eaten by lions when they ask of his whereabouts. The general arrives, and Nabulungi is ready to submit to him, telling the villagers that the stories Cunningham told them aren't true. To her shock, they respond that they have always known that the stories were metaphors rather than literally true. Cunningham returns, making everyone believe that he had "risen" after being eaten by lions. Price and Cunningham then drive the general away, telling him he can't hurt the "undead"; along with the threat that they would use the power of Christ to turn him into a lesbian (as the general fears the female clitoris). The missionaries are set to depart when Price offers them that, since they came to the village to help people, they can still do so even having been excommunicated. Price rallies everyone – the Mormons and the Ugandans — to work together to make this their paradise planet, because, after all, they are all Latter-Day Saints. Later, the newly minted Ugandan elders (including the newly converted general) go door to door (or rather mud hut to mud hut) to evangelize a sequel to the Book of Mormon: "The Book of Arnold."


Musical Numbers

  1. Hello! – Price, Cunningham and Mormon Boys
  2. Two By Two – Price, Cunningham and Mormon Boys
  3. You And Me (But Mostly Me) – Price and Cunningham
  4. Hasa Diga Eebowai – Mafala, Price, Cunningham and Ugandans
  5. Turn It Off – McKinley and Missionaries
  6. I Am Here For You – Nabulungi
  7. All-American Prophet – Price, Cunningham, Joseph Smith, Angel Moroni and Company
  8. Sal Tlay Ka Siti – Nabulungi
  9. Man Up – Cunningham, Nabulungi, Price and Company
  10. Making Things Up Again – Cunningham, Cunningham’s Dad, Joseph Smith, Mormon, Moroni and Ugandans
  11. Spooky Mormon Hell Dream – Price and Company
  12. I Believe – Price
  13. Baptise Me – Cunningham, Nabulungi
  14. I Am Africa – McKinley, Missionaries and Ugandans
  15. Joseph Smith American Moses – Nabulungi and Ugandans
  16. Tomorrow Is A Latter Day – Price, McKinley, Cunningham, Nabulungi and Company

Cast