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FEATURE: On the Launch of The Book of Mormon

The cast of the National Tour of The Book of Mormon. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

In New York City, there is rarely a better theatre recommendation to be had than at the TKTS Booth. In a city of 8.6 million, hundreds of theatre organizations, and innumerable shows opening and closing all the time, TKTS provides the human touch. Make your way to the booth in Brooklyn or Times Square, and as you work your way towards the box office its staff will find you and offer to tell you about their favorite recent shows. This is how I ended up seeing The Book of Mormon for the first time.

That was March 2018, just two weeks after the show had opened. Every TKTS staffer that I spoke to, however, had found a way to see the show or was eagerly planning to see it soon. The only problem was that the show was selling like hotcakes – there wasn’t a cheap ticket to be found, and no signs that cheap tickets might be anywhere near the TKTS discount sales anytime soon. So my companion and I decided to try the pre-show lottery.

As the recent Hamilton lottery showed, your odds are not bad if you can play the lottery day after day, but you need a bit of luck to win a ticket lottery when you’re only in town for a day or two. We didn’t win the lottery, but there was a pair of restricted view tickets available for $125 each. We decided in the moment to buy them, and so it is we saw one of the best shows on Broadway in recent memory. It was worth every penny of that $250 in tickets, and more. (Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, which we saw the next day for about $16 each, was worth that but not more.)

Missionary positions: Kim Exum and Conner Peirson in the national tour of The Book of Mormon. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Given its creators and its infamously crass humor, The Book of Mormon is surprisingly traditional as a book musical. It sits squarely in the middle of the stream of musicals from Rodgers & Hammerstein to present, without pushing the boundaries of form or function. Its score has a strongly eclectic Broadway fusion, sprinkled with everything from klezmer quotes to a few seconds evoking “The Greatest Gift of All”. In its structure and composition, it’s nothing new under the sun – but in how it unfolds and where it goes are tons of humor and magic. Seven and a half years after it opened, it’s still one of the funniest shows on Broadway.

Like most Americans, Elder Price (Kevin Clay, center) and Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson, right) couldn’t find Uganda (represented by Monica L. Patton, left) on a map. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Growing up, most of my Mormon friends were conservative in their manners and quieter in their disposition, an impression that continued to be reinforced later in life. Imagine my surprise, then, when we discovered that our neighbors in the restricted-view box were a pair of Mormon brothers, one done with his mission trip and the other about to head out. The two, it turned out, were great fans of the famously potty-mouthed and satirical cartoon South Park, including its episode poking fun at Mormonism. One turned to me and scanned the crowd, pointing out people that in the audience that he knew or guessed were Mormon – “About a quarter of the house”, he said. They’d been talking about the show at the local Mormon temple, and with friends on social media. They had a blast.

Lots of other people did, too, although a separate (and very Mormon-looking) father-dad team left partway through Act I – the only empty seats that we saw in the house as Act II began. The show’s still going on strong on Broadway today, and even still regularly selling out. As the show gained traction nationwide, especially after a sensational Tony Awards excerpt, the very Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the show pokes fun at became a regular advertiser in Book of Mormon playbills. Each time the tour comes to the Twin Cities, it’s a perennial bestseller, a go-to for company excursions, and more.

I’ve never regretted paying $125 for my Broadway ticket to The Book of Mormon. It’s not the kind of show that you forget, for all the best reasons, and I’ve watched the clip above more times than I’d care to admit. If that kind of money is out of your price range, there’s a ticket lottery and Student/Educator rush tickets available at every performance.

The Book of Mormon plays through November 18 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN.

Basil Considine