The Book of Mormon: Goddamn good.

When I was a boy, every Saturday at 9 a.m., I'd put on my little J.C. Penny suit, make sure my little briefcase was stuffed with the latest Watchtower and Awake! magazines, practice my little speech ("Hi, we're just walking around the neighborhood today talking about the Bible—have ya heard of it? Ha-ha"), and then head to the Kingdom Hall with my mom and sisters. After a brief meeting at the hall, we'd team up with another family and drive out to some neighborhood in town. We called these neighborhoods "territories." We'd split into family groups, take opposite sides of the street, and start the process of adding sheep to Jehovah's flock.

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On our walks around the territories, sometimes we'd pass a pair of youthful men wearing button-up shirts and slacks. Mormons. On our turf. The Jehovah's Witnesses might be just your average American-made fundamentalist Christian sect, but we weren't Mormons. When we would run into them out in the field, there was a general sense of competition.

While I watched The Book of Mormon, playing now at the Paramount Theatre, I couldn't help but try to imagine a parallel musical about Jehovah's Witnesses. But there's just no way in which it would ever work, and the reasons WHY it wouldn't work highlight the greatness of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez's smash hit.

JWs go into field service for life, and women aren't excluded from service. (In fact, in my memory, women led much of the proselytizing strategy at the Kingdom Hall.) There's no codified "study abroad" element to our evangelism. But the Mormons have this colonial, patriarchal, self-serving core that makes perfect fodder for parody. JWs are just kinda thrifty and scrappy opportunists by comparison.

And there is no aesthetic consistency among Jehovah's Witnesses. The Mormons always wear those short-sleeved shirts and black name tags, and their temples have those golden horn players up top, and that's not even mentioning Mormons' flashy matrimonial rituals that involve secret handshakes. This is what happens when a religion has property and lots of money, and why The Book of Mormon could so brilliantly use the winking pomp of musicals to reveal the Mormon's penchant for the fabulous, which the religion hides in plain sight. The only aesthetic consistency among JWs might be floral-print dresses and ill-fitting suits.

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Alas, a JW musical would suck. But should you scrum up in front of the Paramount two hours before the show for a chance to win $25 tickets in the lottery? Yeah, are you kidding me? It's the best. The pacing is swift and the performances are stellar, seemingly effortless despite how physically demanding they are. In some ways, the musical is a cartoon of musicals, and in order to pull that off, the actors have to do what cartoons do but with the limitations of lungs and muscles. Plus, Alexandra Ncube, who plays Nabulungi, the only person you're supposed to like in the whole play, is... lemme consult my notes here, oh yes, I seem to have written down VERY GOOD AT SINGING. Not to mention the play is a study in the beauty of the male form in conservative dress.

This musical suggests that the power of storytelling is a universal and ultimately good thing in that it fossilizes wisdom that can help us overcome terrible circumstances. It doesn't really matter what kind of razzle-dazzle you add on top of that—blond-haired Jesus, sex frogs, a cricket with a top hat, or jubilant Ewoks. But more than that, The Book of Mormon opens up complicated questions about the relationship between art and religion, ones that those didactic, libertarian-leaning conclusions to South Park never really could. recommended