It was about 18 months ago that I was first introduced to the musical The Book of Mormon written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (along with Broadway musical veteran Robert Lopez) at its Sydney premiere. Then, as I took my seat, I was totally unprepared for the assault on every one of my funny bones! It was in fact the most hilariously exhausting 2.25 hours I had ever spent inside a theatre.
Recently I was back inside the Crown Theatre to finally attend the much-anticipated arrival of the show here in Perth and what a joyous evening it was. First staged in 2011, The Book of Mormon is a satire telling the story of a pair of mismatched missionaries who have been sent halfway around the world to share in the Good Word.
The show was as full of life as it was when I first saw it. In fact, the production seemed a little tighter and was — though I’m unsure how — even funnier! You may have heard that the show has something to offend every sensibility, which indeed it does. It is certainly not a musical for the faint-hearted of the easily offended. However, you will find the performance is done with such high energy (and some of the cleverest choreography by Casey Nicholaw I’ve seen) and with an ensemble as perfect as any you will see on Broadway or in the West End. I also especially liked the occasional tongue in cheek winks at some of Broadways classic musicals!
The opening number ‘Hello!’ introduces us to each of the new elders as they ring those doorbells, turn on their fresh, enthusiastic Mormon boy grins and start their hopeful conversion patter. The brilliant cast playing Latter Day Missionaries were all in top form as they crossed the globe concerned that they will be able to convert the ‘heathen’ just through their well-mannered politeness.
A stand-out performance worthy of mention in my mind was Joel Granger, who shimmies and sashays in his portrayal of repressed gay, Elder McKinley. He heads the enthusiastic and impressive international ensemble cast.
Two of our heroes, Elder Price (played by Blake Bowden) and Elder Cunningham (Nyk Bielak) are sent to Uganda to convert a village to Mormonism! It’s a right of passage. Their introduction to Africa is deliriously funny. The penniless villagers are not easily swayed and one warlord is most unimpressed by the missionaries’ message of how great America is while they live in such poverty, so it takes a clever ‘reinventing’ of the Book of Mormon to persuade them.
There is singing and dancing about AIDS, warlords, female circumcision and more. The profanity, rudeness and entirely non-PC approach might leave some with religious sensitivities a bit shocked. But there’s no denying how funny it is and for every shocking moment it wasn’t long before I was again convulsing with laughter.
Bowden and Bielak had big shoes to fill in Perth, replacing the long-standing cast members from Melbourne and Broadway productions. Bowden is also the first Australian to play Elder Price. They both joined the cast in Sydney and they make a great double act. Elder Price wants to be anywhere but where he is in Uganda and prays to be sent elsewhere. Elder Cunningham is hapless and so full of passion and energy, you can’t help but cheer him on.
The duet with Cunningham and local Ugandan village girl Nabulungi (played by Tigist Strode) was especially funny. “Baptise me, I’m wet with salvation!” It was impossible not to laugh.
Ann Roth is behind the costumes and they are cleverly designed. The staging is designed to reflect the original production. The orchestra, directed by David Yong, was another highlight.
The Book of Mormon was the perfect antidote to raise one’s spirits. I was totally exhausted from the best tonic in the world — laughter!