Songs from Musicals: #26 “All-American Prophet,” from The Book of Mormon

Honorable mentions: “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” “I Believe”

Do you guys remember when The Book of Mormon was changing Broadway? And then Hamilton came along and everything changed? Gosh, we were not prepared. Speaking of Hamilton, Andrew Rannells came on Broadway for a couple months to fill in for Jonathan Groff as King George in Hamilton. I wish I had seen Hamilton – at this point I would not be picky about how I got to see Hamilton, or who was in it – when Rannells was on. He is delight of the world. The Book of Mormon could work without him, but he was so much more essential to it in the early going than Josh Gad. I believe that wholeheartedly.

The Book of Mormon is famous for basically eating American musical theater and regurgitating it in a commercially appealing package. “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” is a rehash of Wicked, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is (of course) The Lion King, and Rannells drops a pitch perfect “Oh, what’s the matter with me?” in “I Believe.” For “All-American Prophet,” Rannells narrates while Lewis Cleale does a brilliant bit of Robert Preston drag. One almost wishes they had backed this up a few songs: “Ya Got Trouble (In Uganda)” would make for a killer number. The song is less about trouble, though, than opportunity. Elder Price, who is a huckster almost worthy of a Mark Twain novella, is selling the chance for earthly and heavenly salvation to the people in a small Ugandan village. In one of the show’s weirdly informative numbers, we get a pretty fair recap of how Mormonism came about in six minutes. (The runner-up is “Joseph Smith, American Moses,” which provides maybe the best explanation of how dysentery is contracted that I’ve heard in all my natural life.) Joseph Smith and the angel Moroni, among others, show up on stage to detail the stages by which Smith finds the Plates, leads his followers to Illinois, where he was lynched, and then hands over the reins to Brigham Young in an all-timer of a lyric:

Price: Joseph was shot by an angry mob, and knew he’d soon be done!

Joseph Smith: You must lead the people now, my good friend…Brigham Young!

Do you guys remember where you were you heard another all-timer of a lyric?

Price: And even though people wanted to see the golden plates

Joseph never showed ’em!

Joseph Smith: I have maggots in my scrotum.

Price: Um, okay. Well, anyway!

I have never laughed so much out of sheer surprise in my entire life; it is this Vine in a song.

Of course, about thirty seconds later, as he dies, Joseph Smith sings this little tidbit:

Oh, God

Why are you letting me die

Without having me show people the plates?

They’ll have no proof I was telling the truth or not.

They’ll have to believe it just…’cause.

Oh!

I guess that’s kind of what you were going for.

It is a succinct statement of what faith is, as clear and unassuming and nonjudgmental as any that I’ve ever heard. You have to believe it just ’cause; what mattered was never the proof, but the continued belief in the first place. It’s a sentiment that is mirrored over and over again after this song ends: for humor, when Elder Cunningham accidentally founds a new religion in remote East Africa, and for slightly less gaudy humor when Elder Price is forced to face a warlord in a wild attempt to get him to convert. And it all begins here, from the mouth of a man who died with maggots in his scrotum.

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