Great Musical Performances: “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon
Once in a while there is a song in American musical theater that “has it all.” And it’s not easy getting it all. A song in a musical can have great melody, but trite lyrics. Or the lyrics can be good but the melody is poor or thin (my main complaint with the recent works of the highly popular Stephen Sondheim). Or the lyrics and the melody are great but performance is weak or perfunctory.
“I Believe” from The Book of Mormon has it all. I’ll share my thoughts on the score of The Book of Mormon in a future review, but let’s just say it lives up to its hype: it’s a score that bridges the gap between the melodic, hummable scores of Broadway’s Golden Age and some of the scores of today that incorporate more modern forms of music.
And then there’s the performance. Below you can watch Andrew Rannells in his role as a Mormon missionary in Africa singing “I Believe” – and singing his heart out. The lyrics, melody, and emotion he puts into the song join together in a glorious, joyous, from the heart and spirit inseparable whole. You’ll note that “I Believe” has no jokes in its lyrics but says some things about Mormon beliefs. The audience at the 2011 Tony Awards laughs.
When I first hear The Book of Mormon in September, as I got in my car in San Diego and embarked on a 9 month road trip around the country, I began to weep when I heard the song.
The melody got to me. Rannell’s performance touched my heart, the lyrics touched my heart — and this guy named Gandelman most assuredly is not a Mormon. Rather, in my travels in my life I’ve spent lots of time with people of varying religions who shared their beliefs with me and took me along with them (a Hindu family in New Delhi, a Muslim family in Dacca, and a Catholic family in Madrid). Each person, each group, sees his/her beliefs as logical and genuine. And when their beliefs are shaken, often they will re-evaluate these beliefs, and sometimes their belief system is shake and they’ll walk away from them — or maybe be reborn and believe what they learned earlier in life even more. It’s part of an important life journey. And it’s all the more touching when the journey is taken by a young person.
The song, lyrics and melody continue to touch me when I listen to the Grammy Award winning original cast album of the Tony Award winning show.
And I don’t laugh when I watch the video below. I still get teary eyed. I never expected to be so blown away by a current Broadway score — or a performance.
But I have been. And I am.