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Album of the Week: ‘The Book of Mormon”

In honor of the “The Book of Mormon” upcoming Broadway reopening on Nov. 5, I thought it would only be fair to review the soundtrack! This original Broadway cast recording, released in 2011, chronicles the events of the musical “The Book of Mormon,” wherein two young Mormon missionaries go to Uganda to convert the natives. The protagonists, straight-laced and saintly Elder Price (Andre Ranells) and the geeky and dishonest Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad), are paired up as mission companions. They each go on their own journeys of self-discovery while in Uganda. Even without seeing the show live, the heart and humor of the story this musical tells are so evident throughout the soundtrack.

Written by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, this soundtrack not only delivers a slew of catchy and well-composed songs, but some hilarious lines! Robert Lopez, the creator of the comedy musical “Avenue Q,” and co-writer of “The Book of Mormon,” also adds to the humor. Since the show is a comedy, it is no surprise that many of the songs serve as parodies of prior musicals. For instance, the infamously controversial “Hasa Diga Eebowai” parodies the upbeat and positive nature of “The Lion King” classic, “Hakuna Matata.” The second act tune “Joseph Smith, American Moses” parodies “The Small House of Uncle Tom” from the musical “The King and I.” Each song is unique, which makes listening to the soundtrack such a moving experience. No song sounds the same, even when bits of previous songs are interpolated into others. 

Like many modern musicals, “The Book of Mormon” experiments with a plethora of different musical genres. Even traditional African rhythms and drum beats have a place on the soundtrack! This variety is precisely what I adore about this soundtrack; there is a song for everyone. Over half of the soundtrack is upbeat, but there are a couple of heartfelt ballads. The standout ballad on the soundtrack is “Sal Tlay Ka Siti,” a textbook ‘I want’ song which is sung by Nabulungi (Nikki M. James) after she learns about Salt Lake City and the opportunities the city holds. However, I will warn you that most of the songs have an explicit label. What did you expect from the creators of “South Park”? The faint of heart have been warned!

As much as I love musicals, there are very few soundtracks that I can listen to straight through without skipping at least a few tracks; however this is not so with “The Book of Mormon.’ Every single song is enjoyable and none of them get old, regardless of how much I listen to them. Seeing as I’ve listened to “Hasa Diga Eebowai” 300 times in the past week, I can verify that this is one soundtrack that gets you hooked. Whether you listen to the soundtrack for the comedy, the music, or even the experience, “The Book of Mormon” is truly a treat to listen to. Just listening to the songs will make you want to pull out your credit card and book a flight to New York City to see the show on Broadway as soon as possible! In fact, I am thinking of planning a New York trip for myself in the coming year solely to see “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway.

Unfortunately, there are not many songs that I can comment on without spoiling the plot of the show. But it just so happens that my favorite song on the album is a spoiler-free tune! You guessed it; my favorite from this 16-track soundtrack is “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” Religious folk, beware, because this song, sung by the citizens of a Ugandan village is a literal ‘F you!’ to God himself. When Elder Price and Elder Cunningham arrive in Uganda, they are greeted by a native named Mafala (Michael Potts) and his daughter Nabulungi, who gather the other villagers to sing of their favorite phrase: “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” The villagers use this phrase to curse God for the high rates of AIDS among them, the prevalance of female genital mutilation, and for their poverty. If you can get past the initial shock of the jarring phrase itself, the song is a powerful glance into the lives of those living in developing nations. Not to mention how spectacular and elaborate the musical arrangement is. “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is the song that best portrays the comedic style of Parker and Stone; they know just how to address dark realities while keeping things satirical.

The runner-up for my favorite “The Book of Mormon” song is worth mentioning, too. “Baptize Me” features Elder Cunnighman and Nabulungi finding every way to make sexual innuendos of Christian baptismal practices. Nabulungi begs Cunningham to baptize her, but the lyrics and tone of the song mislead listeners into believing that the two are preparing to lose their virginity to one another rather than preparing for a baptism. It is a sweet pop tune that excellently portrays the budding relationship between these two characters and makes you laugh nonstop.

Overall, “The Book of Mormon” is the perfect Broadway soundtrack. I must give it five stars. Musically, vocally, and comedically, the songs are excellent. Not to mention the acting that you can literally visualize just from listening! I am a sucker for soundtracks that can make you feel for characters and understand their relationships with each other, and “The Book of Mormon” does just this. The comedy and drama in the song lyrics perfectly balance each other out, making for a moving and meaningful story through music. 

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