Lyric Theatre, Sydney – until 2 September 2018
Guest reviewer: Amy Mitchell
The Book of Mormon opened on Broadway in 2011 and since then has been showered with Tony Awards, international re-runs and widespread critical acclaim. Now, I’m a self-confessed sucker for show tunes, but to my own surprise, I had little to no idea what this mammoth in musical theatre was all about before I took my seat in Sydney’s Lyric Theatre.
Writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of South Park) and songwriter Robert Lopez (Disney’s Frozen) joined forces to concoct a joyous melange of politically incorrect subject matter, riotous stereotyping and unapologetically crass humour all tied up in an oddly charming, toe-tappingly melodic bow.
Book of Mormon follows the journey of two young Mormons and their quest to spread the word of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Elder Price is a cookie cutter Mormon poster boy while Elder Cunningham is a hyperactive, loveable dork with a penchant for lying and sci-fi movies. This unlikely duo is sent to a remote Ugandan village on a quest to convert its inhabitants to the Latter Day Saints. Their visions of an Africa a la Lion King are abruptly shattered as they encounter AIDS, female genital mutilation and a tyrannical warlord with an unprintable moniker.
As Elder Cunningham, Broadway’s own A.J. Holmes dominates the stage with his enormous presence and side-splitting physical comedy. It is one of those performances where it’s nigh on impossible to imagine there being an actor behind the character.
Elder Price was played by understudy Steve Danielsen who was superb, his all Australian good looks and strong vocal performances managing to make the audience warm to an obnoxious and potentially unlikeable character.
In fact, the entire cast is stellar. It’s impossible to decipher who stole the show. Aside from our two main Missionaries, the best performance title could equally have gone to PJ Adzima who played Mission Leader Elder McKinley. His energy could genuinely take your breath away. Also a close contender was Aussie local, Zahra Newman who played Nabulungi, daughter of the village chief. Her vocals in Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Salt Lake City) were nothing short of heavenly.
The Book of Mormon score/lyrics are brilliant and will have you cringing in half delight at the controversial lyrics peppered with comedic hooks. Spooky Mormon Hell had the audience erupting in laughter and Joseph Smith American Moses is equally hysterical.
Each song draws inspiration from well-known musicals, e.g. Hasa Diga Eebowai is reminiscent of the Lion King’s Hakuna Matata. Challenge – try and guess the parody. Hint – think West Side Story, Avenue Q, Fiddler on the Roof, Wicked and Hairspray.
There’s been a certain amount of hullabaloo surrounding the religious and racial overtones of the show. I’m actually surprised Book of Mormon got the go ahead (and unsure if it would if it was pitched in 2018!) but I’m not surprised it went onto become a smash hit. To me, it delivers on so many levels and the delightfully distasteful satire (in true Trey Parker and Matt Stone style) has a palpable social conscience.
Wickedly witty, The Book of Mormon pokes fun at the seemingly un-pokeable and ultimately manages to leave the audience with the cheerfully uncomfortable warm fuzzies. It’s also fantastic to see homegrown Australian talent holding their own (and killing it) alongside the Broadway greats.
The Book of Mormon runs at the Lyric Theatre, Sydney until 2nd September