Book/Music/Lyrics: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Robert Lopez
Director: Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker
If you’re tetchy about the taboo, passionate about political correctness or you thought Avenue Q crossed too many boundaries, then The Book of Mormon isn’t the musical for you. But if you love eccentricity, are prone to laughing out loud at the rude and raucous and you howl when playing Cards Against Humanity, then you need to pay a visit to Manchester’s Palace Theatre to say ‘hello’ to the Elders.
From AIDS, to cancer, to deprivation, to religion, there really isn’t a topic off-limits in this obscene yet fabulous production, with something to touch the nerves of almost every audience member. While on paper it may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, this piece from the creators of South Park and co-writer of Avenue Q and Frozen, absolutely showcases why you should never take anything at face value. For something that really shouldn’t be funny, it is guaranteed to have tears streaming down your face (in a good way) and provide the hilarity and escapism we all need right now amidst the real-life dramas of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The story follows protagonists Elder Cunningham and Elder Price as they are placed together in a mission to spread the word of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Uganda, East Africa (much to the disappointment of Elder Cunningham who dreams of two years in Orlando, Florida). An unlikely coupling, the duo join a bunch of Elders who have failed to baptise any Africans during their time in the country and together they go on a journey of friendship, fear and fabrications (ok, downright lies!) to make a difference to a fragile, fearful and frankly foul-mouthed community.
There isn’t too much dialogue within this fast-paced production, directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, with short snippets of narrative soon leading on to the next big number. Within Act One, you have some of the stronger musical moments – namely Hello, Two by Two, Turn It Off and Hasa Diga Eebowai – while in Act Two you have the coming together of the narrative and one of the funniest scenes of the entire show, as the Book of Mormon gets retold in the most defamatory way imaginable.
Conner Peirson as Elder Cunningham has huge shoes to fill, with his most famous predecessor Josh Gad originating the role in Broadway in 2011. But my word, he does not disappoint. His exaggerated and childlike persona is just captivating from the moment he darts onto the stage for the opening number and this energy continues throughout the rest of the production. He really does stand out in any group number and even if at the back, his characterisation never falters. He works superbly with Robert Colvin, as Elder Price, who while not as vocally strong as previous actors in the role, still does a great job of portraying the more serious and dedicated ‘best friend’.
Aviva Tulley also does a phenomenal job in bringing to life the character of young Nabulungi, who dreams of a better life in Salt Lake City – away from the death and destruction she is currently surrounded by. Her vocals are breathtaking and effortless, providing some of the most stand-out moments of the show. The ensemble, too, have been cast superbly, many taking on multiple roles and caricatures to add an extra layer of cheese and camp to an already extravagant production. Jordan Lee Davies, who plays Elder McKinley and Moroni, deserves a special shout out of his own – his over-exaggerated persona and movements adding an extra layer of watchability to the group performances.
It’s no surprise that this musical has scooped nine Tony awards and four Olivier awards. With tune after tune, superb casting and outrageous humour that often crosses the line this really is “something incredible that will blow your freaking mind”.
Runs until Saturday 1 January 2022