I’m sure some believe “The Book of Mormon Musical” is the most Mormon musical ever written.
But for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, half-a-dozen musicals have more to say to Mormons than that one.
“Les Miserables,” for example, with its themes of faith, repentance and commitment speaks to the LDS heart, as does “Fiddler on the Roof” and its tale of family strength and testimony in a turbulent world.
But I think the most Mormon of Broadway musicals has to be “Man of La Mancha.”
I bring it up today because Utah Opera is currently staging the show at the Capitol Theatre. And at every performance, I’m sure locals will be on their feet applauding.
I’ve seen five Utah productions of “La Mancha” over the years. And I’ve probably missed five times that. Don Quixote, the woeful old knight, was the signature role of the great Robert Peterson. It's also the signature role of Michael Ballam at Cache Valley’s Utah Festival Opera.
Now a band of fresh voices will have a go at it.
“La Mancha,” for me, isn’t the most Mormon of musicals because two companions go out into the world to change it. And though Quixote’s standards and ideals mirror those of the LDS faith, I find Mormon elements elsewhere in the show.
I see it in Quixote, the peasant who thinks he’s the pauper but discovers he’s from nobility. He’s not a burned out old man. He's a soul with a royal lineage and a mission.
Mormons seldom discuss what happens in their temples, but I think it’s safe to mention that LDS faithful who visit the temple come away feeling they are part of God’s family, part of a royal household. More than once I’ve watched a person from society’s lower rungs emerge from the temple feeling he or she has a noble birthright.
And that is exactly what happens to bandy-legged Alonso Quijana in “La Mancha.”
He starts out weak, spent and addled, but evolves into a high-minded crusader for all that’s good. And his new vision of himself lifts those around him. Aldonza, the prostitute, looks through Quixote’s eyes and sees herself as a young woman of worth, virtue and integrity. Sancho Panza, Quixote’s unfocused sidekick, finds a higher calling to pursue.
Even Quixote’s doctor, who scoffs at the idea of “knights errant,” dons the garb of the Knight of the Mirrors to shock Quixote out of his delusions, never tipping to the fact that by dressing as a knight himself, he makes noble knights a reality.
That's the upshot of it all. Quixote isn't a fake; he is what he claims to be. He walks, talks and acts like a knight. He does dangerous, high-minded deeds. He's regal.
And, of course, the show-stopper song, “The Impossible Dream,” tells us “the world is better” because this scarred and scared old fellow found the courage to reach upward.
Needless to say, I’ll be in the theater for one of the upcoming shows at the Capitol. And like everyone else, I’m sure I’ll be on my feet at the end.
When it comes to musicals that define what it means to be a Mormon “The Book of Mormon Musical” can't hold a candle to the tale written 400 years ago by a Christian genius trying to embrace his destiny.