Nov 1, 2013

The Book of Bobby

The Book of Mormon has now been a Broadway hit for two and a half years, and it's now making its second trip to Denver--about as close to "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" as this irreverent if less than scalding take on the LDS faith may get in our lifetime. I had occasion to interview Bobby Lopez, the less-famous partner in the BoM creative triumvirate (who incidentally has another long-running hit musical in New York), for the show's return to Denver. He proved quite circumspect about his role in the show's creation, and when pushed, about its real attitude toward religion, which as I noted in my review, seems to be that religious faith is "magical thinking that somehow (magically?) makes us kinder to each other." Lopez, recalling his fateful meeting with South Park savants Matt Stone and Trey Parker:
We discovered that we all had the same feelings about religion and God--that God doesn't exist and yet somehow he does...And that even though the stories are made up, the leap of faith that people make makes them better people.
Lopez's disillusionment with the Catholic faith he grew up came less from the familiar narrative of sexual awakening or atheist reasoning than from a close exposure to its rituals:
In college I sang in choirs and I started to see the mechanics behind the Mass. There is quite literally a backstage, and the Mass is quite literally stagecraft. Where I went they had incense, and there was an organ that had something called a zimbalstern--a wheel that tinkles when you push the key and makes it feel like there are angels in the church. There are stories, there's a throughline, there's a snack. It's everything that theater does; it's basically a proto-musical.
That last bit is the key to Lopez's turnaround: He may see "through" the stagecraft of religion, but he now puts whatever faith he has in that stagecraft itself: 
Any kind of literature, any kind of art that tells a story is a form of religious experience--it's a consciousness-changing endeavor. It transmits spirit through it. In musical theater, we're lifting people up, giving them stories and arming them for experiences they encounter in life.
Yes, that, as well as making jokes about famine and baby-raping. RTWT here (PDF).

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