When The Book of Mormon opened on Broadway in March, it became an immediate commercial and critical success. Since the show is sold out for some time and scalpers are commanding upwards of nine hundred dollars per seat, most of us won’t be seeing it any time soon. Instead, we’re making do with the musical score, composed by Bobby Lopez (Avenue Q) and released in May to predictably impressive sales as Broadway albums go.
If the music is any indication, The Book of Mormon tries, with varying degrees of success, to satirize three different subjects: Mormons, Broadway and Western ignorance about Africa, respectively. And the Mormon satire, though no one knew what to predict, comes with intelligence, care and respect. One of the most touching—yes, touching—numbers of all is in some ways the most profane. Nineteen year old Mormon missionary to Uganda, Elder Price (Andy Rannells), sings the rousing verses of “I Believe” with such conviction that it’s impossible to interpret the song as mere satire. This is no mean feat given that the song summarizes aspects of Mormon belief with lyrics like, “I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob,” that “the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri” and that, “in 1978, God changed his mind about black people!*”
It’s just that the song also reveals the character’s basic decency. He wants to be ethical and good and, yes, help people. When the orchestra swells and the gospel choir arrives and Price sings, “I believe that Satan has a hold of you,” the lyric is strangely moving. You see, this is the moment at which Price overcomes his fear in the face of Uganda’s political violence. The particulars of the faith seem unimportant given the courage it gives him. By the time Price comes out with,“I know that I must go and do the things my God commands,” you’ll want to pump your fist in the air in celebration. “I Believe” makes everything clear: The music is not a parody of Mormonism but a parody of faith. But it’s also a love letter to faith.