The Book of Mormon arrives on a wave of praise — it’s been a critical and commercial darling everywhere it’s played and a winner of nine Tony Awards.
People have been lining around the block to secure tickets and it’s so successful that even Mormons themselves are getting in on the action by using the publicity to recruit new members.
On Saturday, at Melbourne’s official premiere, you could feel that anticipation and enthusiasm even before the curtains opened. People were ready to love the show.
Hype can often ruin a production for audiences, but what is incredible about The Book of Mormon is it completely stands up to its success.
The Book of Mormon uses the structure and style of classic Broadway and turns it on its head.
It’s a glowing tribute to all the things people love about musicals: elaborate dance numbers (with a nod to the legendary choreography of Bob Fosse), catchy show tunes, and larger-than-life performances and sets.
But that is where the similarities end.
You’d be hard pressed to find another mainstream musical theatre show that could fit AIDS, Hitler, and genital mutilation into such a charming and hilarious romp.
The only thing that comes close is the Mel Brooks musical The Producers, but even that would be afraid to cover some of the ground that The Book of Mormon covers.
Brain child of South Park creators
Playwrights Matt Stone and Trey Parker are two of America’s most successful satirists and have been making cult TV animation South Park for almost 20 years.
What started as an underground series soon became a global sensation and their smart and warped sense of humour was embraced by a legion of fans.
Nothing is truly sacred on South Park and they are some of the best equal opportunity offenders in the business.
They often employ and debunk stereotypes in their work and The Book of Mormon is no different.
The story is a simple one.
Young and naive Mormon missionaries Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are sent by the Church of the Latter Day Saints to Uganda to offer the locals “salvation”.
Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are played impeccably by Canadian Ryan Bondy and American A J Holmes. Both are veterans of previous tours of The Book of Mormon.
They are electric on stage, the performances are so polished and so mannered that you can easily forget you are watching actors on a stage.
The intensity of the two leads ensures that no-one in the theatre leaves unmoved.
They are a classic comedy duo. The straight man and the goofball.
But what is so clever in this show is the way they develop and change on the course of the journey. And their character evolutions are expertly played.
Exploring maturity, community and unwanted urges
The musical does obviously poke fun at the Mormon Church, and in a hilarious number titled Turn it Off, they explore the nature of repressing unwanted feelings, in particular same-sex attraction.
Rowan Witt plays the closeted Elder McKinley with a camp frenzy, which is utterly hilarious and expertly choreographed.
His whole body language is an aching love letter to the glory of showbiz.
However, what makes the story work so well is that it is not just poking fun at Mormons, but it is a story about these characters maturing and learning about life.
They learn about helping each other and helping the community around them.
In the end it’s inconsequential what the religious dogma is or is based upon, it’s really about bringing joy to each other and the musical does that in spades.
The Ugandan characters are spectacular; the singing, costumes and dance moves are a riot and are also a ridiculous play on stereotypes.
There is much fun to be had at the expense of the Disney version of Africa.
The Lion King is mentioned more then once, but I’m fairly sure there are no maggots in the scrotum in any Disney musicals.
You’d have to be humourless to be angered
It’s hard to take offense at any of the jokes, as it’s all so full of joy and energy.
You’d have to be humourless or deeply conservative to actually be angered by the show.
Zahara Newman, who plays Nabulungi the Ugandan love interest of Elder Cunningham, is a perfect blend of naivety and warmth.
Her voice is stunning and her innuendo-laden duet with A J Holmes in Baptize Me is a marvel.
It’s like a classic 80s love duet waiting to happen.
The show is full of highlights, one being the surreal and incredible Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.
The staging, costumes and choreography of this number is one of the best I’ve seen in musical theatre.
And I won’t get the vision of Adolf Hitler and serial killer Jeffrey Darhma fellating Mormons in hell out of my head for some time.
The audience were in hysterics for the whole show, sometimes laughing so hard you missed the punch lines.
It was refreshing to see people embrace the profane and provocative with such relish.
The Book of Mormon brilliantly proves that you can get away with anything in comedy if it’s smart and truly funny.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
Image: The Book of Mormon Melbourne Facebook
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