Music, Book & Lyrics: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez & Matt Stone
Directors: Casey Nicholaw & Trey Parker
All young men who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons as they are more commonly known, are expected to undertake a two-year mission somewhere in the world. In The Book of Mormon, we follow Elders Price and Cunningham on their mission.
Elder Price is the classic young Mormon whom his contemporaries seek to emulate. He’s good-looking, clean-cut, has a strong faith and knows what he wants from his mission and where he wants to go. Unfortunately, he’s also pompous and maybe a touch arrogant: the type of person for whom the phrase ‘Pride Goes Before a Fall’ could have been coined. Elder Cunningham is the opposite: he’s needy, socially awkward and prone to embroidering the truth to make himself appear more interesting. They are sent to a downtrodden village in Uganda that is in thrall to a local warlord. It quickly becomes clear that traditional Mormon teaching does not strike a chord with the locals. How can Price and Cunningham fulfil their destinies and bring the locals to God?
It’s well known the show is written by the creators of South Park, so one can be sure it will be hard-hitting, irreverent satire – and so it is. Some of the Mormon beliefs are held up for ridicule, but it is at the same time affectionate – the Mormons themselves are painted as well-meaning and sincere: Price and Cunningham are well-rounded, three-dimensional, sympathetic characters with whom we can all relate at some level. On the way, it deals with some pretty dark issues, including Female Genital Mutilation, but also manages to make us belly laugh frequently. And it completely subverts traditional musical theatre with its use of big routines choreographed by Casey Nicholaw that would certainly not look out of place in any musical – well, until you listen to the lyrics, anyway. And at its heart, there’s also a rather sweet romance as well as a bromance along with a clear moral. In short, it’s pretty much perfect as a show.
Robert Colvin is supremely self-assured as Elder Price. He’s confident he knows what is expected of him, although he is very disappointed not to get his desired placement. Price goes on quite a journey before coming out the other side as a better man. Colvin shows us Price’s contradictions well and we find ourselves rooting for him even as we anticipate his descent. Conner Peirson brings us Elder Cunningham: we immediately warm to him as the almost pantomimic stooge, but find ourselves rooting for him as he comes good. The developing bromance between the two is rather sweet as each learns lessons from the other.
In the village, we meet Mafala Hatimbi (Ewen Cummins) and his daughter Nabulungi (Nicole-Lily Baisden). Cummins portrays Hatimbi’s desire to protect his daughter while at the same time his quiet desperation at his life well. Baisden’s naïve Nabulungi is a breath of fresh air as she proves an unexpected love interest. The local warlord is brought to intimidating life by Thomas Vernal, a strutting menacing presence, while in the ensemble of missionaries each has his own character traits, as hilariously shown in the song Turn It Off with its high camp routine.
The Book of Mormon isn’t for the easily offended – there’s plenty of strong language and dark themes – but it is ultimately uplifting and a joyous evening, filled with memorable tunes and sights – I defy anyone to leave the theatre not humming Hello.
Runs until 28 March 2020