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The thirty-two hundred penny opera



On Sunday I was in New York City, in a crowd of excited people. A man with a bullhorn was shouting, and we cheered in spite of our nervousness. We were at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in hopes of winning the right to purchase two front row seats to The Book of Mormon, the hottest show in town. It has been sold out for months in advance.

Unbelievably, the man with the bullhorn called my name, making me one of 12 lucky winners entitled to purchase a pair of $32 tickets. So my fiancée and I got to sit in the front row, presumably just in front of the $477 seats, at eye level with the pulsating floorboards of the most scabrous yet life-affirmingly brilliant work of popular entertainment we've ever seen.

Bertolt Brecht, who wrote The Threepenny Opera with Kurt Weill as Germany's middle class fell apart in the late 1920s, dreamed of a revolutionary musical theater. We could do worse than to learn the soundtrack to The Book of Mormon, which takes shots at our country's insipidness—the stultifying landscape of Walmarts, Taco Bells and Pizza Huts that we all go to New York to escape. But the show also hits the affluent hipsters where they live, where they, too, have been enveloped by a consumerism that masks itself as revolutionary individualism:

My sister was a dancer
But she got cancer
The doctor said she still had two months more
I thought she still had time
So I got in line
For the new iPhone at the Apple store
She laid there dying with my father and mother
Her very last words were "Where is my brother?"

The show, created by the South Park duo of Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q composer Robert Lopez, isn't just about Mormonism, but about Americanism. Like jazz and baseball, Mormonism is uniquely American and, as such, is an expression of this country's messianic self-regard.

There is, of course, another show playing in New York, known as Occupy Wall Street. It plays constantly in Zuccotti Park, near the New York Stock Exchange. It's a much better deal for tourists. Tickets are free to this ongoing installation, and the souvenirs are much cheaper. Bullhorns, however, aren't permitted.

But in the other 99 percent of the city, life goes on: New York remains New York, the stuff of dreams and the greatest city in the world. You can walk the High Line in Chelsea and gawk at the shimmering, swiveling new condos above. And from the High Line, you can descend to shop for Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney in the meatpacking district or, as we did, pay $110 apiece to attend a multi-story total-immersion riff on Shakespeare's Macbeth at the McKittrick Hotel on 27th Street.

To visit New York is to nibble on the crumbs falling from the table of capitalism, and it can be a very tasty meal. But in a small park downtown, there is a contingent determined to deliver a message: All is not well for the rest of us.

On Mondays Broadway theaters are dark. Would it be too much to ask of the Book of Mormon cast to stage, on one of these Mondays, a wildcat performance of their show for the hardy souls living in tents downtown?

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