The best thing about the new musical The Book of Mormon is that it is at the same time shocking and familiar. It is difficult to think of another instance where a musical so blatantly laughs in the face of religion—a topic best avoided in any social setting—and holds nothing back in terms of profanity and sexual humor. Yet even so, The Book of Mormon, while setting these precedents, is a beautifully constructed Broadway musical in a very traditional sense.
Written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the duo has made very public over the years their reverence of musical theater. Collaborating with Robert Lopez, co-writer of the Tony-winning Avenue Q, this musical-loving team has done the medium justice. With a story that follows two young Mormon missionaries to Uganda to spread the word of their faith, character traits and ambitions are established immediately and simply. Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) is a handsome, perfect Mormon disciple, determined to rise the ranks in the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) is a goofy, clueless loudmouth who just wants to make a friend and prove his worth to his parents. Audience, we have our newest Broadway odd couple!
Parker, Stone, and Lopez (who, from the sound of it, could open up a law firm if this endeavor fails), present their two heroes and their fellow Mormons as relentlessly cheery drones who have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to the logistics of their faith. It doesn’t matter how you or I perceive the Mormon community; this is the version that Parker, Stone, and Lopez have created for their show, and as a set of characters in a musical work of fiction, they are built on fantastic character devices. Elder Price, while presenting himself as selfless and good intentioned, possesses a dark, narcissistic desire for self advancement. Elder Cunningham, while appearing ignorantly blithe, struggles with a seed of doubt that grows stronger as the show progresses. And the missionary leader in Uganda, Elder McKinley (Rory O’Malley) surprises his homosexual urges so decidedly that he “turns it off like a light switch.” (Yeah, right!) Read more
Fela! is a wildly unique and outside-the-box-thinking Broadway production. I thought so and so does just about every major theater critic. And with 86 percent of its tickets sold last week, it’s a fair hit. But I just read a fantastic gem of an idea New York Magazine delivered in it’s final paragraph of their review for Fela! that would have been a ridiculously exciting and original rush concept. Here’s the block quote from reviewer Dan Kois:
Given the concert conceit of Fela!, and the audience participation that its stars encourage, I wish they’d just ripped the first ten rows out of the orchestra and sold those spots for ten bucks to music lovers. It probably would’ve violated a fire code or some union contract, but it also might’ve helped the energy in the crowd match the exceptional energy onstage.
First of all, the $10-general-admission-pit rush idea is brilliant. It made me excited just to read and consider the notion. I can just imagine how much fervor that would draw out of fans, or rather how much more enthused it would make theater goers about the show. People would feel rabid about this show, like they feel about the Hair revival, spurred on by the nightly invitation for the audience to come dance on stage. A $10 price would be perfect to not only match up with the fact that there would be no seat, but also to reflect the atmosphere and realism of the story’s setting. It certainly didn’t cost $85 to get into Fela’s Shrine nightclub.
Kois’s idea of ripping out rows of seats is definitely radical, and I am kind of on board (although I don’t want to damage the beautiful Eugene O’Neill Theatre). That, however, would be a massive undertaking and an extra cost to Fela!‘s backers to restore whenever its run ends. But who are we kidding? Jay-Z and Will Smith have the money—let’s make this happen! (Not to mention we’d also have the newest chamption for Cheapest Rush Ever! …Fine, there was also this one.)
Photo: Monique Carboni
How do you solve a problem like Fela!? If you’re crafting a musical based on the radical Nigerian musician who created the genre “Afrobeat” and used it to criticize his government, you must formulate a production that is just as outside-the-box as the man was. Director Bill T. Jones presents a Broadway-quality experience that feels unlike anything “Broadway.”
Jones paints the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in Fela’s colors. The show felt like it had already begun when I walked into the director/choreographer’s old Spring Awakening home. The band is already playing, and as I step into the building, I see that covering the walls are murals of African art, enlargements of Fela’s headline-making antics, and strands of lights stretching all the way from the back mezzanine to the boxes. The theater is unrecognizable and I felt like I wanted to get a table and eat a good meal there. For this show, arriving to the theater early allows you time to soak up the mood of Fela’s world and by the time the show begins (forgoing the parental “Unwrap your candy, turn off your cell phones” warning), your interest will be piqued.
I knew nothing about Fela Anikulapo-Kuti prior to this show, and I’m venturing to say few others did too. But being this is a bio-musical, the narrative is supposed to take care of that for you. By curtain call, I did have an understanding of Fela’s life, but I can’t say I’d pass a test on the details. I then thought theatergoers would benefit from a little trip to Wikipedia before taking their seats, but then certain plot points would be less of a surprise, such as Fela’s mother’s death (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler. It’s made clear in the Playbill that she is dead, but the circumstances surrounding it are the real shocker).
Before seeing 33 Variations, Moises Kaufman’s play exploring why Ludwig van Beethoven composed the titular arrangements seems like a big “No, thank you.” But sometimes we have to look deeper to find the gem that lies within something. Kaufman and Beethoven did the same thing.
I took a chance by arriving at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre at 9 a.m. to wait for rush tickets, instead of the more customary (and safe) 8 a.m. I didn’t think the billing of Jane Fonda would pull a big audience from people my age, and the play has been performing to average house capacities of under 58 percent for the past four weeks. Those factors make for no guarantee that there won’t be a… well, rush for rush, but in this case, my guess was accurate. Only two other rushers joined me in line a few minutes before the box office opened. 33 Variations participates in the rare policy of only distributing one rush ticket per valid ID. Who goes to see a play alone?! Yes, I often do; but attending a theater performance is usually a social event, which a rush policy shouldn’t hinder. In addition, the ticket price is $30 – an annoying $4.50 above the standard amount. However, the tickets are in the front row, center section. I was shocked they were giving those seats for this play. The view was fantastic, and being that close to a film legend like Fonda was a special experience. Read more