Neil Patrick Harris opened the Tony Awards on June 12 with a delightfully clever ditty called “Broadway: It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore.” As proof, there appeared high-kicking stewardesses in mini-skirts, singing nuns, evangelizing Christians, “sober-minded” businessmen, even dancing sailors.
Two days later, Broadway learned that it isn’t just for New Yorkers—and Times Square tourists—anymore when the original cast album of The Book of Mormon ranked number three on Billboard’s top albums chart. Only Adele and Lady Gaga topped Mormon’s sales for the highest-charting Broadway album since Hair in 1969.
Perhaps it was the show’s gay fans who bought all 61,000 copies that week, but maybe not. Producers had prayed that Bible-Belt breeders would stumble upon the Tony telecast—by coincidence or divine intervention—at precisely 8:03 p.m., when Andrew Rannells, as squeaky-clean teen missionary Elder Price, sang the stirring anthem “I Believe.”
They gambled that watching a missionary fearlessly share his faith with a dangerous African warlord would resonate more with heartland zealots than The Book of Mormon’s tap-dancing showstopper that specifically ministers to gay men.
That song is “Turn It Off,” in which “ex-gay” Elder McKinley joyfully advises, “Imagine that your brain is made of tiny boxes/Then find the box that’s gay and crush it!” Turning off temptation is “a cool little Mormon trick,” he explains, and more authentic than denial. “Being gay is bad, but lying is worse/So just realize you have a curable curse/And turn it off!”
The book, music, and lyrics by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, collaborating with Robert Lopez of Avenue Q, don’t just take aim at antigay knuckleheads or ridicule Mormons, aka the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are revelatory for anyone born into a cult and reared in faith.
I admit when I heard Elder Price proclaim, “I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri,” I thought, “What clever artistic license.” Come to find out, that’s actually part of the Mormon myth! Likewise, “that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!” Crazy, no?
But are the stories I was taught in Sunday school any less, uh, incredible?
The Book of Mormon won the Tony for best orchestrations, with the music performed by nine musicians at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. However, 23 play on the CD, giving listeners 10 times the strings, triple the reeds, and twice the brass.
While the cast album can’t recreate the show’s sight gags or Casey Nicholaw’s choreography, it will have fans outside of the Big Apple humming its tunes as they enter theaters on that “latter day” when The Book of Mormon launches its national tour in December 2012.