A Look at the Costumes from the Book of Mormon
This past weekend I had the delight of going to Book of Mormon at the Jubilee. It was my first time seeing the Broadway hit and I went in knowing that it was beloved by many but I was skeptical of the humour.
For quick context, the Book of Mormon’s storyline is provided on its website:
"What Is the Story of Book of Mormon? The Book of Mormon follows two young missionaries who are sent to Uganda to try to convert citizens to the Mormon religion. One missionary, Elder Price, is an enthusiastic go-getter with a strong dedication to his faith, while his partner, Elder Cunningham, is a socially awkward but well meaning nerd whose tendency to embroider the truth soon lands him in trouble. Upon their arrival in Africa, Elders Price and Cunningham learn that in a society plagued by AIDS, poverty and violence, a successful mission may not be as easy as they expected."
I knew that it was created by South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker alongside Robert Lopez (Avenue Q and songs from Frozen) but I didn't know how it would all come together on stage. Don’t get me wrong, South Park, Baseketball and Team America are hilarious, but I wasn’t sure how that would translate to a Broadway Production. Pre-conceived notions in mind, I watched on.
After the show I came to two main takeaways: how fantastic the costume design was and the role that satire can play in educating the western world masses on how little we know about most countries and cultures. Understanding and critiquing complexities of celebrating rather than appropriating cultures in the context of Broadway Musicals satire is not my area of expertise. Shocking, right? That I’ll leave for someone else. As for the cast’s wardrobe, now that’s something I know a little about.
The show was as crisp as the Elders white short sleeve dress shirts and black ties. The bottom half of the Elder’s getup is the black, uniform dress pants. At first the pants seemed to be all alike. As I watched I noticed that the costume department made sure to hem some too short or too long to provide colour to the character. For instance, Elder Cunningham’s were a bit flood-ish compared to the dashing and svelte Elder Price’s aptly hemmed pair.
Another example of wardrobe finesses was seen in the despicable War Lord character. The General wore cowboy boots and cowboy hat alongside his urban street clothes. He accessorized with weapons and ammunition slung all over his body. A new way to interpret mixing metals, perhaps? Joking aside, I thought it was a smart, juxtaposition (and an interesting final resting place for many clothing donations of North Americans). It was Wild West meets Saturday afternoon of basketball pickup in an inner city. It said to me, “I will kill you, KILL you and all your village. But that don’t mean my tired feet don’t want more that a combat boot.”
One may be critical of the style of humour but Stone and Parker are always relevant and socially aware of subtleties and this example is no exception. They weave in hot topics and pivotal issues in their entertainment. I was reminded of the most recent season opener of South Park where the Washington NFL team was blasted. for their ridiculous persistence at keeping their racist name.
Back to the show other members of the Ugandan village wore castaways presumably from Western donations mixed in with more traditional local attire. Think a Nike T shirt with a Kanga. Mixing and matching to one’s will. Or, perhaps it’s more an example of wearing what you’ve got. Regardless of the dressers intent, it too was a reminder of the influence of the western world on clothing trends.
The above were visual treats to me that provided backstory and unspoken details that rounded out the production. The costumes help to fill in gaps to provide quick insight to who the person, or character, is. The role and power of a strong costume department is helping tell the story without saying a line from the script.
Clothing aside, the overwhelming success and viewership of the production goes to show that humour can have a huge contribution in educating people on key issues as well as busting a gut laughing. You can do both. And it may be just the thing to get us talking about specific issues. Maybe it breaks us down a but us to get chatting. To me, that’s the true front row seat ticket.