Believe the hype.
For a production commonly referred to as the ‘funniest Broadway musical of all time’ – it’s safe to say, expectations for its Australian incarnation are sky high.
The Book of Mormon opened in the US six years ago, and still remains one of Broadway’s hottest tickets. Before a little musical called Hamilton came along, TBOM stood as arguably the most hyped musical in the history of modern theater.
Just like Hamilton assimilates those that “hate musicals” with theatre-lovers, TBOM effectively does the same. The typical high-brow arts crowd is still there but in addition to all kinds of different people, coming far and wide to see what the fuss is all about.
— Lisa Wilkinson (@Lisa_Wilkinson) February 4, 2017
#bookofmormonau is a must see. Exceeded expectations
— David Hong (@hongdizzle) January 25, 2017
The production is the brainchild of South Park masterminds Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and make no mistake, TBOM is very much centered within the South Park universe. From the pre-recorded narration that sounds all too familiar to the anti-PC jokes and jabs. Teaming up with Avenue Q’s Robert Lopez, the musical satire takes aim at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and The Book of Mormon that the church prescribes.
The story follows ‘good Mormon’ Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) and ‘bad Mormon’ Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes), two young American missionaries deployed to Uganda.
The glue that keeps the night intact is the inescapable fact that: religion is funny.
While the musical takes obvious aim at the ineffectiveness of the Mormon mission to Africa, it’s not as offensive as you might expect. It’s more a glimpse into the good – but often misdirected – intentions of organised religion. It’s clear from the beginning, that Stone and Parker mean no harm to Mormons.
“For me it’s been a lifelong thing and going, ‘wow, these people are really nice. Maybe I should be one of them’,” Parker told Channel 10’s The Project last Thursday night.
The response from the church in Australia has supported the South Park creators sentiments. Rather than protesting the musical, the church has pushed out a never-before-seen PR campaign in Melbourne, even including TV ads. This is common for wherever the musical is being performed, as Mormons make the most of the publicity.
But it’s important to note that nothing about TBOM is particularly offensive to Mormons. Arguably, the show is much more offensive to Ugandans, who are walking, breathing stereotypes, where every single inhabitant is infected with AIDS. But as with most of the offbeat and ridiculous proceedings, is better to laugh along than to over-think it with any level of seriousness.
— The Book of Mormon (@bookofmormonau) August 18, 2016
With an ensemble so damn good, it’s hard to derive anything but pure joy from the evening. Canadian actor Ryan Bondy as Elder Price is smooth, smart and quick; everything you would hope for the role.
While A.J. Holmes as Price’s fumbling sidekick is the consummate professional in his effervescent interpretation of Arnold. Holmes has played the role from Broadway to the West End and has the character down to a fine art, assuring the audience is always in safe hands.
Most of the cast herald from the United States – many have come straight from Broadway or the US tour – but the musical also excels at highlighting Australian talent.
The standout for me is Sydneysider Rowan Witt, as Elder McKinley, the closeted saint, encouraging all the Mormon boys to hide their ‘inappropriate’ feelings, in my personal favourite song ‘Turn It Off’. He also led many of the dance routines, all of which were nothing short of phenomenal; the acting and singing prowess also all first-class. The shining star of the whole musical Zahra Newman as Nabulungi, served up the most impressive vocals of the evening.
All in all, a spectacular, hilarious and unforgettable production, which might leave everyone to wonder: why did it take so long to get here? It’s extra glaring as Melbourne has seen the likes of the cringe-inducing and inferior musical versions of Legally Blonde and Ghost, all before TBOM reached our shores.
Sure, it’s a tad self-indulgent, and at moments becomes a live-action South Park episode – particularly during the side-splitting ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream‘ sequence.
But to continue to sell out shows across the globe, drawing in crowds by the thousand, all to witness a scrotum full of maggots and Hitler getting a blow job, I’m sure Stone and Parker are having the last laugh.
The Book of Mormon is playing at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne from 2 February.