Truly crass, highly sophisticated, and utterly sensational
By Tania Herbert
Taglined as ‘The Only Book that Matters’, The Book of Mormon is the Tony-Award glutton and Broadway spectacular written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park and Team America fame), joined by songwriter Robert (Bobby) Lopez (of Avenue Q and Frozen fame). The opening night of the long-awaited Australian premiere certainly met the definition of ‘gala’- prequelled by a cocktail party filled with every identifiable face in Melbourne (particularly if you’re a fan of The Bachelor), and concluded with a standing ovation as Trey and Matt joined the cast onstage for the final number. Even the actual Mormons are taking advantage of the hype, with giant posters currently framing Southern Cross Station.
The plot is the usual musical-esque small-town boy heading out into the world to make it big. Less usual though is the setting of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) is a newly-minted Mormon missionary, ready to change the world and fulfil his dream of ringing doorbells throughout Orlando Florida. However, his hopes are challenged once he finds himself paired with the goofy and inept Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) and shipped off to remote Northern Uganda. Once there, the Brothers discover that The Lion King was way off the mark, and it’s all up to them to save the village from insurgent rebels.
The show is approachable for a range of audiences- 10-man acapella for the musicians, continual nods to musical comedy classics for the genre fans, and enough excessive costuming and production value to please any contemporary Broadway hedonist. However even those with no prior experience will be well entertained by the true hilarity of this piece of comedic genius that barely pauses for breath. Perhaps one of the most unique elements of the show is the working of humour into every element of production- set changes, exits, and lighting all feature as jokes and the humour ranges from the outright crass to artful parody.
The cast are universally stunning. Both leads come to Melbourne as Mormon veterans (Bondy performing in all three US companies, and Holmes in ‘every company.. thus far’), and the polish and passion shows in the truly flawless performances. The leads are backed up by two mostly separate ensembles- the Mormon brothers and the Ugandan villagers. The contrast in music, dance and characterisation styles for the two ensembles was one of the most rewarding parts of the production for me- adding more variety to an already exceptionally catchy bunch of tunes. Many of the cast also come from international productions of the show, along with the best of local talent. VCA graduate Zahra Newman was the particular standout as the adorable (yet still with a very impressive belt) Nabulungi, the chief’s daughter looking for a life ‘less shitty’.
Whilst only vaguely reminiscent of the of South Park episode All About Mormons (Season 7, Episode 12), fans of Matt and Trey are still rewarded, with South Park’s Jesus Christ making an appearance, and lead characters not so vaguely reminiscent of the pair themselves as they appeared in Baseketball.
For a show that spends so much time spoofing, The Book of Mormon is also truly unique, and covers a massive amount of ground in politics, comedy and moral ambiguities. The comic timing is flawless, the dancing immaculate, and the vocals spine tingling.
In typical Matt-and-Trey style though, the show is horrifyingly offensive and nothing is sacred. It’s a little like the Broadway version of Cards Against Humanity as you find yourself laughing at religion, African poverty, FGM and AIDS. If you don’t cringe at least once, you probably need to work on your politically correctness. Given all the inappropriateness, the show is also strangely sensitive, and a timely reminder that with a bit of tolerance, imagination and community, we can all be a lot happier.
The show is certainly not friendly for families, the politically sensitive or the easily offended, but if you don’t fall into one of those categories, it’s fair to say you’re going to have a pretty good night out with The Book of Mormon. With the new world of Brexit and Trump, it may seem like things are pretty grim at the moment, however this musical is the ultimate reminder that in the end, the world can still be a pretty funny place– as long as you don’t take it too seriously.
THE BOOK OF MORMON is currently playing at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. Tickets are on sale until June 25, and can be purchased at bookofmormonmusical.com.au
Warning: Adult themes and coarse language!
Image by Jeff Busby