So, what do we all need as armageddon approaches? Toilet paper, check, hand sanitiser, check, a musical brought to us from the creators of South Park and of the Broadway hit Avenue Q? Check. The Book of Mormon is big, biblical and bloody brilliant, and if there was ever a reason to leave the house right now…. this is it.
The Book of Momon was one of those shows that I had always liked the sound of but never had the opportunity to see. With music, lyrics and book by Trey Parker, Matt Stone (South Park and Team America: Wolrd Police) and Robert Lopez (writer of Avenue Q), you might wonder if their unique style, and often damn right x-rated humour, could transpose the musical theatre genre? Well, throw those doubts out along with your sinful thoughts!!
The Book of Mormon is as much a theatrical delight as it is a rapturous satirical comedy. This Australian production is full of large toothy smiles, big song and dance numbers, sparkly costumes, big dreams, and some pretty tall tales, all in the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
After being introduced to the smartly dressed elders, who enthusiastically demonstrated their doorbell ringing techniques in the opening song Hello, the young ‘graduates’ are paired off to be sent on their missions. However, when the ambitious and overly confident Elder Price is paired with the dorky Elder Cunningham (who’s prone to lying) to go to Uganda…. Africa….. (and NOT Price’s beloved Orlando) he begins a journey that questions all he has believed in. This is a buddy adventure like no other discovering true friendship, a love story (of sorts), plenty of comedy, dance routines and c-bombs dropping left, right and most certainly off centre.
Upon their arrival to a small Ugandan village, I’d say it’s fair to say that the South Park-ness really kicks in. The locals introduce themselves via the song Hasa Diga Eebowai which transpires to be less like the Lion King’s Hakuna Matata and more like Team America’s Everybody had Aids! The villagers are terrorised by a General with a name equally terrifying/hilarious. The young men are now painfully aware of the challenge of making a success of their mission to get as many Africans baptised as they can.
At first, I wasn’t sure what they were taking the piss out of more – religion or musicals or both? But it seems they can do both pretty well while producing something that is actually very slick and very very funny, but that still has a heart. And, at its core the show is not cruel or nasty but fun and high spirited.
The performance of Turn It Off is probably the epitome of what they achieve here. It has big tap routines, sparkly vests, snappy lyrics and plenty of laughs that all roll along during its epic presentation lead by Elder McKinley, played Joel Granger in this production. The Book of Mormon itself is also brilliantly explained with tongue in cheek humour via the song All American Prophet. By the time you get to the brilliantly choreographed Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, you’re definitely all in and there’s no going back.
I’d say there’s little left to the imagination in the majority of the lyrics but they somehow also manage to include a song that is entirely innuendo in Baptize Me, and it is glorious. I Am Africa is another big showtune that’ll break you if you’ve not already collapsed into fits of laughter.
Collectively, the performers are excellent, all belting out powerful vocals and giving it some with the spotty dogs and jazz hands while hardly breaking a sweat. The leads’ Blake Bowden (Elder Price) and Nyk Bielak (Elder Cunningham) chalk and cheese relationship is rather sweet and the two share a great camaraderie on stage. The comedic sidekick delivery by Bielak as Cunningham is a delight and brings the right level of childhood innocence, adolescent cheek and youthful entrepreneurship. Vocally, Bowden is a standout – he seemingly pulls out all the stops to belt out song after song without ever losing his energy, with I Believe being a notable example. Tigist Strode, who plays Nabulungi, is also vocally striking and gets to shine a few times during the show.
And, no one in the cast lets the side down, far from it, they’re all precisely perfect, from teeth to toes, from start to end, bringing huge energy in both their voices and performances. The costumes are both precise and playful depending on the scene, and a versatile set allows for super-quick changes and strong imagery.
I really can’t recommend this show enough and I guarantee it’ll only take a few minutes of watching the show before you become a believer too.
Remember to stay at home if you are sick, but if you’re well you owe it to yourself to go see The Book of Mormon at Auckland Live’s Civic Theatre until 26th April (oh, and wash your hands).
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.