Arts & Culture

First-timers’ guide to ‘The Book of Mormon’ as it arrives in Fort Worth

Billy Harrigan Tighe in “The Book of Mormon.”
Billy Harrigan Tighe in “The Book of Mormon.”

People of Cowtown, prepare to blush, shake your head, furrow your brow, walk out the door, fall to your knees and repent.

The Book of Mormon is here.

While the sights and sounds of the Christmas season are happy and jolly and merry and bright in downtown Fort Worth, inside Bass Hall, the airwaves will soon turn profane and vulgar and offensive and sacrilegious — and very, very funny — all in the blessed name of entertainment, of course.

The national tour of the Tony-winning musical finally makes its Fort Worth debut Tuesday, after stopping in Dallas twice since 2013. It’s the most anticipated Broadway tour to hit the city in years, and one of the biggest box-office hits of this century.

The Book of Mormon won nine Tony Awards in 2011, including best musical, plus best book and best music and lyrics, all duties shared by creators Robert Lopez, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Its nearly six-year Broadway run regularly ranks in the top five of Broadway grosses (along with megahits The Lion King and Wicked).

If you haven’t already gotten tickets, well, good luck; remaining seats start at more than $100. Wanna take a date? You likely won’t get to sit together if you’ve waited to get tickets. (You could try your luck at a daily lottery for $25 tickets before each performance.)

You’ve probably read that The New York Times hailed The Book of Mormon as “the best musical of this century,” or that The Washington Post gushed, “It is the kind of evening that restores your faith in musicals,” or that former Daily Show host Jon Stewart said it was “so good it makes me angry.”

But still, there are some important things first-timers — especially those of any mainstream religious persuasion — should know before they see the show. Consider this guide your small catechism.

What’s it about?

The show follows two fresh-faced Mormon missionaries named Elder Price and Elder Cunningham who are sent on a two-year mission to Uganda. It deals with their friendship, getting to know the residents of an African village of a warlord-led country, and their exploration of Mormonism and the bigger idea of faith. (Sounds like the stuff of a parochial school musical, right? Keep reading.)

How filthy can it possibly be?

If you know that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the guys behind the long-running, foul-mouthed Comedy Central cartoon South Park, then the filth factor won’t come as any surprise. Also consider that Robert Lopez is part of the team that created the musical Avenue Q, which features naughty puppets with major-league potty mouths.

Seriously, The Book of Mormon is really nasty and profane.

Some of the song lyrics would make George Carlin blush. In the first song when they arrive in Uganda, Hasa Diga Eebowai, the idea of “lost in translation” goes to new, inappropriate, F-bomb heights.

Specifically, what’s so vulgar?

The depiction of the Africans and their customs is especially eyebrow-raising. For the sake of keeping this story family-newspaper-appropriate, let’s just say the serious topics it “deals with” include starvation, AIDS and other diseases, rape, and female circumcision.

Even those of us who usually have no problem with this kind of inappropriate humor have to pick our jaws up off the floor several times.

Want to know more about how these issues are covered in the show? Sorry, our censors say you’ll have to Google it.

Will I laugh?

Yes, if you don’t walk out first. (The offensive stuff gets started about 30 minutes into the show.) Because the inappropriate humor is the whole gimmick. Parker and Stone delight in being equal-opportunity offenders, not just crossing the line but pole-vaulting over it with Olympian gusto.

Remember that it’s satire — especially when it comes to the religion part.

Is it meant to criticize Mormons?

It’s easy to see the show as three guys making fun of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to be sure, there is a humorous song (All-American Prophet) that explains the religion’s origins — Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, the angel Moroni, etc.

But the ultimate message is that it’s OK to believe in whatever you believe in, and if you do believe, then give it your all.

A lyric in the final song, Tomorrow Is a Latter Day, goes: “We are still Latter-day Saints, all of us. Even if we change some things or we break the rules or have complete doubt that God exists, we can still work together and make this our paradise planet.”

How has the Mormon church responded?

Interestingly, rather than raise a stink about the musical, the church has taken a smart approach by using it as a recruiting tool. It has purchased ads promoting the real Book of Mormon in the Playbill; expect to see an ad in the program that says something like, “The book is always better.”

Is it more like ‘South Park’ than a traditional musical?

No. Creators Parker and Stone love musicals. When Parker was a student at the University of Colorado Boulder, he wrote the script for the movie Cannibal! The Musical, which was co-produced by Stone. The film is now a cult favorite.

And South Park regularly does musical numbers, such as its award-winning 1999 movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. (Who can forget the song Blame Canada that caused a stink at the 2000 Oscars, with that great performance by Robin Williams?)

And, get this: Lopez (of Avenue Q fame) is responsible for your kids’ favorite song. He co-wrote with his wife the earworm Let It Go from the animated film Frozen, and won an Oscar for it.

Are there things stolen from other musicals?

Not exactly. But Lopez, Parker and Stone love musicals so much that The Book of Mormon is a parody of musical theater itself. There are subtle music references to shows contemporary and classic, including Bye Bye Birdie and Hairspray. In the song You and Me (But Mostly Me) there’s an even bigger reference to Wicked, especially the song The Wizard and I.

That song Hasa Diga Eebowai is an obvious play on The Lion King’s Hakuna Matata (and Lion King is mentioned a couple of times in the show).

The cleverest nod to musicals comes in the song Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, in which the Africans tell the story of Mormonism’s origins in an ode to the Small House of Uncle Thomas scene in The King and I.

And for non-musical-theater parodies, I Am Africa is a spoof of We Are the World, and there’s another spoof of Donny and Marie’s music. The Osmonds, of course, are famous Mormons.

Look for tap-dancing and plenty of jazz hands.

Is there ANY way to get a cheap seat?

Yes. With some luck.

Producers are installing a lottery system that will sell 20 seats to each performance for $25 each.

Show up to the Bass Hall box office beginning two-and-a-half hours before each performance for a ticket lottery. Each person will print his or her name and the number of tickets desired (one or two) on a card provided.

Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of $25 tickets. Only one entry is allowed per person.

Cards are checked for duplication prior to the drawing. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets. Limit one entry per person and two tickets per winner.

A final warning: In some locations of the touring show, the lottery system has had as many as 800 participants.

The Book of Mormon

  • Tuesday through Dec. 6
  • Bass Hall, Fort Worth
  • $44-$110
  • 817-212-4280; www.basshall.com

Note: A lot of people walk out of this show before it ends. Performing Arts Fort Worth’s ticketing policy is that all sales are final. There are no refunds or exchanges.

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