#76: Original Broadway Cast Recording – The Book Of Mormon (2011)

Throughout the next however many months I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number seventy-six.

In the grand tradition of mismatched pairs, from Oscar Madison and Felix Unger in the play and television show The Odd Couple (one is slovenly, the other fastidious) to Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady (one is a free spirit, the other has a stick up his ass) to the unforgettable character(s) portrayed by Rosey Grier and Ray Milland in the 1972 cinematic Siamese twin classic The Thing With Two Heads (tag-line: “They transplanted a WHITE BIGOT’S HEAD onto a SOUL BROTHER’S BODY!”), we meet the odd couple at the center of The Book of Mormon, Tony Award winner for Best Musical. Elder Price is the epitome of Mormon perfection – poised, self-confident, well-groomed, Disney-loving, the kind of guy you take home to meet your Mormon parents (much like the Mormon guy I met at a dance at Columbia University with whom I spent the night. He had an unusual way of kissing that I can only compare to wrapping your mouth around a vacuum cleaner hose. My tongue was swollen for a week. At work the Monday after our rendezvous my boss asked me to generate a report, to which I replied “Yesh shir, I’ll do thosh righ’ away.” It was painfully obvious I spent the weekend with someone who was no saint, latter-day or otherwise.). On the flip side, Elder Cunningham is dim, a social misfit, a sci-fi and fantasy enthusiast who compares Mormonism to The Lord Of The Rings, and also a Disney fan. Together the two are sent on a mission to a village in Uganda to spread the word of the book of Mormon, the third in a trilogy that began with The Bible: An Old Testament and continued with The Bible II: Electric Boogaloo. It’s the old fish-out-of-water trope, akin to the poor orphan Annie suddenly thrust into a world of wealth. However, The Book Of Mormon was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the same guys who gave us South Park, the cartoon about foul-mouthed kids, so get ready for some seriously outrageous humor. For example, like Annie, Elder Price maintains a sunny “the sun’ll come out tomorrow” disposition, though unlike one of the characters in The Book of Mormon, Daddy Warbucks didn’t sing “I have maggots in my scrotum.” Even though in the original script of Annie he did, in fact, have scrotal maggots. That didn’t test well with the musical’s intended demographic of pre-teen girls. “Mommy, what’s a scrotum?” they’d ask, making their mothers nuts. Nuts. Get it? Nuts. That joke’s not testing well with my intended demographic of intelligent people.

The musical explodes right out of the gate with “Hello!”, an upbeat number in which young wide-eyed Mormon missionaries rehearse their best “knock-knock, can we share the good word?” spiels. It’s so infectiously catchy that in the songs titled “Hello” competition, Lionel Richie and Adele will have to duke it out for second place. I’d give it to Adele, but me thinks Lionel will take it, just as his album that included his “Hello,” which was not a contender for this list of my 100 favorite albums of all-time, took home the Album of the Year Grammy Award in 1985 over four albums that are coming up on this list. Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down won over Prince’s Purple Rain? Hello?

From “Hello!” we go to “Two By Two,” in which the missionaries learn where they’ll be sent to proselytize. One pair is sent to Norway (“Land of gnomes and trolls!”), another to France (“Land of pastries and turtlenecks!”), and another to Japan (“Land of soy sauce and Mothra!”). Elders Price and Cunningham learn they’re being sent to Uganda, disappointing the former but exciting the latter when he learns Uganda is in Africa (“Oh boy – like Lion King!”).

Despite his disappointment in their chosen destination, Elder Price is full of confidence in his thirst for glory, while Elder Cunningham is happy to have a new potential friend. In “You and Me (But Mostly Me),” Price sings “I’ll do something incredible / That blows God’s freaking mind!” and “I can do most anything,” to which Cunningham responds “And I can stand next to you and watch!”, the same thing a guy I met in Palm Springs proposed to me. Another story for another time.

My favorite song on the album is “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” The Book of Mormon’s counterpart to “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King. In this number, a local resident enlightens the Elders on how they navigate life’s trials, including poverty, disease, and warlords. While “hakuna matata” means no worry for the rest of our days, “hasa diga Eebowai” means something slightly different. You may not be able to look it up on Google translate, but this verse should give you a clue: “When the world is getting you down / There’s nobody else to blame / Raise your middle finger to the sky / And curse His rotten name!” Not gonna lie – it’s the mantra I’ve been waiting for my whole life.

That song contrasts with “Turn It Off,” in which the Mormons tell how they deal with negative feelings, which is to bury them down deep, like flipping a light switch on your feelings. This song not only boasts the disturbingly catchy sing-song couplet “My sister was a dancer / But she got cancer,” but also the best tap dancing on a record since Dutch singer Taco’s cover of “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” a worldwide hit in 1983.

Every Broadway musical has that one showstopper, and in The Book Of Mormon it’s “I Believe,” in which, after feeling some doubt, Elder Price decides to double down on the beliefs his faith has instilled in him: “I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob,”  “I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri,” and “I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about Black people.” It’s the “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” of The Book of Mormon, a solo number performed by the show’s main character in which through song they affirm who they are at that moment, the only differences being the Evita classic doesn’t mention Kolob or the Garden of Eden or Black people, though the original composition had a line about Eva Perón’s scrotal maggots.

As the digital download was on sale on Amazon for 99 cents, I got the album and learned the songs a year before I saw the show. The songs, witty and melodic, stand on their own, though I did appreciate them more once I saw the musical. The Book Of Mormon is hilarious, audacious, sharp, satirical, bold, and refreshing.

It’s also racist af.

The BIG JOKE introduced in the song “Two By Two” is that our heroes are being sent to a Black country. The Ugandans are portrayed as violent, ignorant, naive, superstitious, sexually promiscuous caricatures who are easily manipulated by the well-meaning but clueless (and totally not culturally insensitive) white Mormon missionary heroes/saviors.

While the show is undeniably uproarious, during America’s Great Racial Reckoning Of 2020, perspectives emerged that it treats heavy issues like racism, colonialism, and poverty as punchlines through its self-discovery narrative focused on the clueless missionaries rather than truly exploring Ugandan life. Props to Trey Parker and Matt Stone for actually listening to the criticism and making adjustments to the script to address the objections raised. It’s like they’re saying, “That’s fair. Let’s fix this.”

Changes in the script of a Broadway musical comedy might not have been the most momentous thing to come from America’s Great Racial Reckoning Of 2020. Other changes included removing Confederate statues, changing offensive sports mascots, adding warnings before broadcasts of older movies and TV shows with racist/stereotypical content, acknowledging that one of the nicer things one can say about Christopher Columbus is he was an inept navigator who didn’t “discover” shit, pointing out Founding Fathers’ hypocrisies regarding all men being created equal, and discussing racial profiling/police militarization.

Companies rebranded products like Aunt Jemima syrup and Uncle Ben’s rice due to racist imagery, so now you won’t find any Black people in the homes of Fox News hosts.

“Be blonde, be thin, be white” is no longer the sole beauty message presented by Madison Avenue, though it is the entire want ad for women hosts on Fox News.

Hollywood has been called out for of some epic history fails. John Wayne as Genghis Khan? Charlton Heston as Moses? Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra? Madonna as a sentient human? That’s not to say Meryl Streep wouldn’t be amazing as the title character in The Legend Of Harriet Tubman: Underground And Over It. She just shouldn’t be on page one of the call sheet.

These momentous changes are slowly helping build a society where everyone gets treated with respect and human decency instead of slurs and stereotypes. . It’s basically like a national group therapy session, but without Roger, who keeps hogging the conversation talking about his ungrateful niece and his sciatica and the time he met Jenna Fischer who played Pam Beesly on the TV show The Office who allegedly told him he’s cute. Oh yeah, Roger? Well, I once made out with Wilson Cruz who played Ricky Vasquez on My So-Called Life in the dining hall at a charity fundraiser, and let me tell you, Roger, he’s a great kisser. No Hoovering there. He treated my tongue like the holy scepter it is.

While change takes time, these conversations aim to build a future of mutual respect regardless of identity by rectifying past mistakes through kindness, consideration and being “woke.”

Which brings us the main point of my essay: Those who constantly whine about woke this and woke that are people with whom I wouldn’t want to sleep in the first place.

Those moaning and groaning about the big bad “woke” boogeyman are simply allergic to empathy. They’ll take a stroll down Bullshit Lane to romanticize the “good old days” when Black people couldn’t vote and women existed solely as baby-makers. Peak freedom!

They treat minor inclusion efforts like it’s was the downfall of Western Civilization! Hasbro gave Mr. Potato Head a gender neutral rebrand, dropping the “Mr.” from the toy’s name. The response of the anti-wokers? “How dare they deny the gender of a potato! How dare they spit in the face of God, who created Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head, not Adam and Spud!” They’ll do anything to “protect” kids from the danger of a fictitious non-binary root vegetable but will do nothing to about actual threats like gun violence at schools, because what is more dangerous – a disturbed teenager with access to an AK-47 or a plastic potato whose gender isn’t clearly identified on its box? They’d rather live in a fantasy land where the death of children is the price of freedom while potatoes have a strict gender code.

These champions of decency love crying “cancel culture!” – ignoring their own decades-long boycotts of anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Books, media, even haircuts. That’s the pot calling the kettle a diversity hire. They’re currently outraged over Nike hiring a Black athlete who kneeled, a trans woman holding a beer can, a Black actress as a mythical mermaid, Target’s LGBTQ Pride merchandise, and Scrabble banning slurs.

These perfectly coherent and totally not-at-all insecure alpha males also called for a boycott of Chick-fil-A. Yes, the Christian chicken sandwich chain that they relentlessly rallied behind for years when the left tried to “cancel” them is now apparently too “woke” because they hired a Vice President of Diversity Equity & Inclusion. That led to one prominent conservative strategist to say “It’s only a matter of time until they start putting tranny semen in the frosted lemonade at this point.” That’s outrageously offensive. It’s trans semen in the lemonade. Retire your t-slur, sir/ma’am/gender nonconformist. It speaks to inner conflicts you may wish to reconcile that the hiring of an HR executive leads you to thoughts of cum guzzling. “What indignity will I suffer next? Getting a rimjob from a hot stud by the deep fryer? Getting gangbanged by a pack of muscle daddies on the griddle?”

Isn’t treating people with basic human dignity the supposedly fundamental teaching of their holy text? I’ll admit I’m not a scholar on The Bible – tl;dr – but I did see a production of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which qualifies me as an expert on the subject.

At their core, these anti-“woke”sters simply resent having to share privileges and hierarchies they believe their identities alone entitle them to. Preserving discrimination is their religion – empathy and progress are heathen sacrilege! So they repackage hatred as “family values” while ignoring how their faiths actually teach the compassion they resist.

Instead of melting down over benign efforts at inclusion, the anti-woke crowd should revisit the principles of human dignity and social justice in their own faiths before branding them radical threats. From a caring view, they are the ones acting against stated beliefs and causing trouble by spreading hate under a victimhood pretext.

And if they insist they are doing God’s work – that God hates “woke” the way I hate string beans – then my only response is Hasa Diga Ebowai.

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