South Pacific and Mormons

It’s been a musical week for me, which I started with South Pacific (⭐️⭐️) at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. I was lured by the glowing reviews and decided to invite my friend B for a treat. I’ll just say, I hope he enjoyed it more than I. I’m not sure what I expected from this seventy-years old production. Composed by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, it first premiered on Broadway in 1949. It is set on a South Pacific island during World War II and addresses the harsh reality of racial prejudice. It tells a love story between a French widower and an American nurse. She falls in love with him and is ready to become his wife up until she finds out he has mixed-race children from his previous relationship. Hammerstein expresses his anti-racist views through the song You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, which at the time was a widely criticized commentary on how racism was something being taught and internalised over time, rather than something we are born with. 

There are a few other wonderfully performed songs with a great stage design such as I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair and There is Nothin’ Like A Dame (much better in my opinion than the linked 1958 film versions). But all in all, I felt there was something missing. Was it the charisma the main characters lacked or an unbelievable change of heart that made this feel flat for me? As for the early 2000s film adaptation, I was told not to go anywhere near it but the 1950s version was recommended. 

One thing that definitely wasn’t lacking from the second musical I went to on Saturday with P, was charisma. The Book of Mormon (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐), which we saw at The Prince of Wales Theatre, is full of vulgar humour, sacrilege, dirty talk, and good music. It’s been on stage in London since 2013, but up until yesterday, I didn’t know much about it. It follows the story of two young Mormon missionaries, who just graduated from a missionary school in Salt Lake City, Utah. They have been sent to Uganda to convince the natives to join the Church of the Later Day Saints. I will not say anything other than ‘just go and watch it’ as it is fantastically clever entertainment and any conclusions you draw about religion and missionaries are totally your own. 

It reminded me of a true crime documentary series with an equally crazy story, I watched last year on Netflix. Murder Among the Mormons (⭐️⭐️⭐) explores a mysterious bombing in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1984. As with any such topics I know very little about, I enjoyed this deep dive into the world of private collectors of religious letters, documents, books, and art as well as one of the world’s most successful forgers, Mark Hofmann. Over the years he forged a number of documents, which threatened to rewrite the early history of LDS. The scale of his counterfeiting run out of control and Hofmann, unable to face his own exposure, took even more drastic actions to end his own winning streak.

Strangely enough, on the subject of Mormonism,  I also have one podcast on my list, Deliver Us From Ervil. It tells a story of a Mormon town in the middle of the Mexican desert, Colonia LeBaron, and the family who founded it. The podcast investigates how this utopian community founded by the LeBarons too quickly turned into a murderous cult. I guess that the next thing to listen to.