SUPER FANS

07.03.11

‘The Book of Mormon’ Gives Back to the Faithful

There is mania in New York for ‘The Book of Mormon.’ People pay hundreds of dollars and wait hours in line day after day for the hottest ticket on Broadway. But 800 super fans got to see the show for free on Friday. Find out how they did it. Plus, Walter Kirn reports on America's Mormon moment.

Going to the theater can be hard work. Going to The Book of Mormon can be darn near impossible. Not, of course, if you have $487 to spend on the record-setting price tag attached to a premium orchestra seat. On Saturday night you could have bought a $300-ticket on StubHub for the Sunday afternoon show. The first normally priced, $155-ticket you can get on Telecharge would be for Sept. 28.

Then there are the lottery tickets. If you're lucky you can snatch them for $32, but you have to be extraordinarily lucky as there are only 20 per performance. Ask the producers of The Book of Mormon how they felt watching as hundreds of people lined up nearly every afternoon to enter the lottery, and they’d tell you that they got sick of seeing those hundreds of people go away empty-handed day after day.

So the producers did something about it: The more than 13,000 people who entered the lottery between May 10 and June 14 were thrown into another lottery, this time for a free matinee—one show for the most loyal fans. Four hundred names were drawn, and each of them got two tickets. But that was just the start of it. Those who wanted good seats still lined up hours before, forming a line outside the Eugene O’Neill Theatre that stretched for four blocks. Some, like Mark Etheridge, entered the lottery 37 times and never succeeded until now; and some, like Delia Torres, waited at midnight on Thursday to be the first through the doors.

Going to the theater for those folks was a struggle. I, on the other hand, walked up to the entrance five minutes before the show, was escorted to my seat to the relief of some poor intern who had been saving it, and plopped into a warm and waiting chair. The 800 dedicated fans gave so much more effort just for a chance to be there, and their enjoyment was immeasurable as the energy they put in closely correlated with the reward they received, amounting to a phenomenon that a calculated critic cannot fairly critique—doing so would simply be a poor fit. When the curtain went up Friday afternoon, the applause was deafening.

One of the longest sustained intervals of applause--one of those moments that stop the musical’s action for longer than quite necessary as the cast drinks in the cheers--came at the end of “Turn it Off,” a number that features the principled Mormon missionaries in Uganda advising that people’s feelings can be turned off like a light switch, including when you have gay thoughts. “Boys should be with girls / That’s Heavenly Father’s plan / So if you ever feel you’d rather be with a man / Turn it off!” The entire musical was engineered to ridicule such repression and to milk the maximum amount of laughter from the endeavor. “Imagine that your brain is made of tiny boxes / And find the box that’s gay and CRUSH IT!” The audience, which resembled viewers at the MTV Video Music Awards more than a Broadway crowd, couldn’t stop laughing at the energy spent to control natural tendencies. They were experiencing a collective catharsis.

How fortuitous then that the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts coincidentally chose this exuberant performance to be taped for posterity.

How fortuitous then that the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts coincidentally chose this exuberant performance to be taped for posterity. Let’s hope the cameras were able to capture the earnest gratitude of the two leads—Andrew Rannells, the experienced Broadway talent (Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys, Link Larkin in Hairspray) who played the role of Elder Price with icy precision, and Josh Gad, who has the overflowing jollity necessary for a successful screen career (as a correspondent for The Daily Show, as Ryan Church on the television series Back to You, and appearing in the movie Love and Other Drugs) and equally fitting for the role of the overgrown baby Elder Cunningham.

Rannels and Gad were shut out of the Tony Awards, although the musical won nine. On Friday, their appreciative audience was clearly raised more on South Park than Sondheim, and their response was enthusiastic to the point of insurrection. This crowd wasn’t about to let the Tony committee forget the snub to Rannels and Gad, responding to the charms of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham with applause that was meant to send a message. If, years from now, anybody does forget, they can always consult the NYPL archives.