Acclaimed Satirical Musical Finally Arrives in Sydney…
But Does it Live Up to the Hype?
Lyric Theatre, Sydney, March 9
Reviewed by Heather Clements
Being in the cast of The Book of Mormon has to be the best gig in town right now. And if being in the audience isn’t rated as two of the best hours of your life, there is seriously something wrong with you!
At the opening night at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre the anticipation and excitement to see this edgy, witty, acclaimed show was palpable. After all the hype, I am relieved to say, it did not disappoint for even a minute.
The Book of Mormon is unlike any other musical comedy… ever. It is deserving of every single award it has received since it premiered in New York in 2011 including nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, the Grammy for Best Musical Theatre album and four Olivier Awards including Best Musical. This first Australian production of The Book of Mormon opened at Melbourne’s Princess in January 2017 where it smashed record sales.
From the very first scene to the last, The Book of Mormon will have you smiling, clapping, cheering and audibly gasping that such seriously taboo topics are making you laugh out loud. This is a thinking-person’s musical and if you are easily offended by irreverent comedy about religion, cultural stereotyping, rape, swearing, female genital mutilation and homosexuality then choose another show. The fact that it is created by the duo behind TV’s ground breaking animated comedy South Park – Trey Parker and Matt Stone – should give you an indication of the extremely overt, off-kilter style of humour behind Mormon.
The opening number ‘Hello!’ sets the tone for the show that beautifully captures the naive innocence of the young Mormons as they eagerly embark on their coming-of-age missionary placements where they fully intend on spreading the Mormon word and saving peoples’ lives. However, the textbook plan of salvation goes awry when our two leads of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are sent to Uganda, Africa, where their white-bread, puritan view of the world is quickly replaced by the issues of AIDS, famine, female oppression and corrupt warlords. This unlikely mix sets the story on its path of controversial hilarity as the two young missionaries form a friendship and get a rude awakening about how the world really works.
However, the pure genius of The Book of Mormon is its ability to both mock the religion and its naive followers all the while endearing the characters to the audience and earning our respect for them purely because of the genuine goodness in their hearts. While laughing along making fun of the religion and its beliefs, you actually end up liking and respecting them!
Musical number highlights include ‘You and Me (But Mostly Me)’, ‘Turn It Off’, ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai (Fuck You God)’ and ‘Baptise Me’. Casey Nicholaw‘s original choreography is perfect in conveying the innocent goofiness of the young Mormons and the entire ensemble deliver it to perfection. (He is also the co-director.) It is humorous, playful, awkward and powerful where needs be. The gentle, fun Mormon numbers beautifully contrast to the aggressive, provocative routines by the Africans and warlords.
If there is any criticism of the production to legitimately be made, it would be the fact that the cast is a mix of local and international performers. And this is a valid problem from the perspective of local talent and the tight employment market in this country. Would this production have been just as spectacular with only local talent? Perhaps. But with such a stellar reputation preceding it, The Book of Mormon is probably justified in putting on the best possible version of this show in Australia as it could with the best available cast. Ultimately, this new Australian production succeeds on every level because of the amazing cast and creative selected.
This is a very tight-knit, polished production with every performer giving 110%. There are no individual stars in this production carrying the show, but a cast of many stars that work together in delivery a sensational two hours of true entertainment. The pace of the show from the beginning is perfect. The storytelling through the musical numbers is perfect. The choreography for the characters is perfect.
The Book of Mormon is an important and perfect theatre experience that should not be missed if given the chance.