Sarasota to New York: Broadway Bound

By Megan McDonald May 9, 2011

The Book of Mormon: Hottest show on Broadway.

When I flew to New York City for five days of theater last week, I had one major goal: securing tickets for the hot, irreverent new musical The Book of Mormon.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy. The show,  which focuses on a pair of naïve Mormon missionaries who are sent to a desperate Ugandan village, is the biggest hit on Broadway in years. And that was before The Book of Mormon earned 14 Tony Award nominations last Tuesday, the day I arrived.

The show’s press representative had already told me she had nothing available for weeks. The concierge at our hotel said she could secure tickets from a ticket agency. But the prices she quoted were in the $500-$750 per ticket range!

At 3 p.m., I walked to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, where the line at the box office stretched down the block.  A smaller line had already formed in the opposite direction for the 25 standing-room tickets that are sold an hour before each performance. I considered this option, but figured I was too old to stand for three hours for the privilege of standing three more hours once the show started.

So I got in the box-office line and eavesdropped on the patrons in front of me, who were ordering tickets for October and November.  When it was my turn, I winced as I asked if any seats were available that night. I figured the weary-looking man behind the plexiglass would snarl and wave me away. But he was actually friendly. Nothing tonight,  he said, not even the $400 “premium” tickets that many theaters sell in competition with scalpers…uh, I mean, ticket agencies.

But he told me he did have two “obstructed view” seats for Thursday at the regular price of $137. “They’re really not bad at all,” he said. “They’re on the second row of the mezzanine, all the way to the right. But you’ll only miss a few entrances and exits.”

So I snapped them up, and 48 hours later, my friend Barby and I were excitedly waiting for the curtain to rise. The seats were as good as my box-office friend had promised. The view was comparable to a mezzanine seat at the Asolo Rep. Why they were still available, I can’t imagine, but I must be living right.

So did The Book of Mormon live up to the hype? Does it belong in the same show-biz pantheon as The Sound of Music and The King and I,  as some giddy critics have maintained?

Well, Julie Andrews and even Yul Brenner might blush at some of the foul language in the show.  One warlord’s obscene name can’t be printed here, and the beleaguered villagers have a few choice words for the God they feel has deserted them.  Another character keeps mentioning that he has maggots in his scrotum.  All this shouldn’t be surprising, since two of the creators of The Book of Mormon are Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys behind the provocative and snarky South Park television series.

But, yes, The Book of Mormon made a convert out of me. Though it satirizes not only the Mormon religion but also the conventions of Broadway musicals, it celebrates the art form, too. At its heart, it’s a warm, sunny, old-fashioned musical full of audacious production numbers and tunes you might actually hum on your way out.

As a mismatched missionary duo, Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad head a standout cast that has no weaknesses. The charismatic Rannells, who looks like a young Jim Carrey, conveys the earnestness and cockiness of a prosletyzer out to change the world (even if he wishes he ‘d been posted in Orlando instead of Uganda). Gad’s character begins as a stereotypical nerd, but soon blossoms in the African heat.

The best Broadway musical I’ve ever seen is probably the original production of The Producers, starring Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick. That show left you feeling giddy from beginning to end. The Book of Mormon isn’t consistently transporting. There are a few moments here and there when you come back to earth. But it’s still a bit of Broadway heaven.

And in my next blog, I’ll talk about a few more shows I saw in New York, including War Horse and Anything Goes.


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