I absolutely love the cartoon movie musical South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut so was delighted to learn that the writers of this had written an original stage musical in The Book of Mormon. I tried to see it on Broadway two years ago but tickets were booked out months in advance, and we booked for this and paid a hefty £75 each five months back.
In The Book of Mormon, two naïve young Mormon missionaries (Elder Price and Elder Cunningham) are sent to Uganda to spread the word and baptise the locals. But of course preaching the Mormon religion in the gritty reality of Africa causes all sorts of shenanigans and a crisis of faith.
To my surprise The Book of Mormon takes a more considered and balanced approach to presenting the Mormon religion than I had expected. It isn’t an out-and-out mockery and it certainly isn’t cruel or even particularly cynical. Granted, the naivety of the Elders’ approach to the religion presents it as a ‘self mocking’ religion and this is cleverly reinforced by the African people’s reaction to it. But this isn’t Jerry Springer the Opera, or even Jesus Christ Superstar in how far it goes. And the Mormons are cool with that. Rather than kicking up a fuss they have taken out adverts in Broadway Playbills encouraging audiences to find out more. Good for them, shows a bit of class.
So they say, Matt Stone (one of the show’s creators) described The Book of Mormon as “an atheist’s love letter to religion.” I can absolutely relate to that, to me the beauty in the piece related to its hopeful and optimistic message that a lot of religious people are doing their best to do good. Religion is the tool that inspires them and the specifics of the message are less important than the good they do. I’m grateful for people in my life who have used religion to do good for me, and this shone through The Book of Mormon and made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Worry not though, The Book of Mormon is filthy and outrageous too. It is tongue in cheek, and silly, and rude. In some places it goes well beyond what the audience for stage musicals will be used to. Lots of laughs, some gasps of horror, and plenty of speechless silence. And there’s some parodies of the musical genre in there too which is fun for a musical lover. Overall The Book of Mormon is very coherent and cleverly done. The songs are great, plenty are catchy enough to hum for days after. We talked and laughed about all sorts of bits of it afterwards. For me the highlights were the African people’s AmDram production of the origins of the Mormon religion, plus the song ‘I Believe’ which I think might be genius.
So I enjoyed it, and some of my friends loved it. The audience gave it an enthusiastic standing ovation. And I thought it was… pretty good. A very solid production and decent in all respects. But. It could have been better, it almost felt like they were not trying hard enough and coasting along on the hype. The singing was just about adequate, the dancing was just about adequate. But that’s all really. It lacked a certain tightness and charisma and energy. If the performances were as intelligent and witty as the writing this could have been amazing – and I bet the Broadway version was just that.
Ian’s 4* Review:
I really enjoyed The Book of Mormon, and the humour was clever and generally good-natured enough to get away with being outrageous at times. Given what a huge deal it is in the West End at the moment (after its massive success on Broadway) I was slightly surprised that the cast seemed good but not excellent. The dancing wasn’t that tight, the musical performances were competent but unspectacular and there was a bit of a lack of charisma and chemistry. A great show with a slightly mediocre cast by the standards of the West End or Broadway.