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The Book of Mormon, review: you'd better believe it – the go-for-broke satire remains gleefully funny

Saturday, 26 August 2023


By Marianka Swain for The Telegraph

It is simply unimaginable that the phenomenally successful The Book of Mormon musical, which opened on Broadway in 2011 and at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre in 2013, could be made today; it would be “cancelled” in seconds. And yet, the sneaky truth is that this wild, thrilling, go-for-broke, genuinely hilarious musical comedy remains one of the funniest shows in the West End. My audience was in raptures.

Created by South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and composer Robert Lopez (Frozen), The Book of Mormon expertly satirises the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its tale of two mismatched missionaries who are sent to a remote village in Uganda. However, a couple of years ago, 20 of its black Broadway cast members wrote a letter expressing concerns, and Lopez, in response, commented they might make tweaks.

But he also declared: “What’s great about Matt and Trey is they’d rather close the show than make it feel PC and not funny.” And that, surely, is the point: even in these hypersensitive times, you buy The Book of Mormon tickets fully expecting, and wanting, a barrage of outrageous gags. The creators duly oblige, with colourful swearing and eye-watering references to Aids and FGM, plus a warlord called General Butt F---ing Naked (based on a real Liberian general).

Yet the show is never mean-spirited; it’s actually rather genial in its equal-opportunities satire. It also has a decidedly gooey centre, thanks to the unlikely friendship between the ambitious Elder Kevin Price and his assigned missionary companion, the socially awkward, compulsive liar Elder Arnold Cunningham. The joke is often on these clueless Americans, whose only reference point for Uganda is Disney’s The Lion King. A later number sees the blundering Mormons cringingly croon “We are Africa” in front of unimpressed black villagers; Bono gets a special ribbing.

Stone and Parker’s animation background is evident in the best possible way: the pacing is lightning-fast, Lopez’s toe-tapping songs never outstay their welcome, and the show takes crazy huge swings. Mormon lore is re-enacted with a Jesus in a light-up robe, emphasising its sheer absurdity, while a Hell dream sequence features Hitler and giant dancing Starbucks cups.

The Book of Mormon cast currently features the divine talents of Dom Simpson and Conner Peirson. Simpson touchingly conveys Price’s crisis of faith and subsequent growth; his big number I Believe is a standout. As the over-eager Cunningham, Peirson has brilliant off-kilter squawking delivery (especially when attempting to pronounce his crush Nabulungi’s name and instead landing on “Nicki Minaj” or “Nigel Farage”), but blossoms when his storytelling proves key to their salvation. The show has it both ways: it skewers religious doctrine, but suggests we can find meaning in metaphor.

Leanne Robinson is excellent as Nabulungi: her spoof Disney heroine ballad is both funny and gorgeously sung. Steven Webb makes a fabulous meal out of closeted Elder McKinley, who preaches suppression in Turn It Off – an inventive number featuring a tap break and a dazzling quick-change from the Mormon chorus line with their eerie fixed grins.

Casey Nicholaw’s peppy choreography is a joy throughout, and Scott Pask’s stained-glass-framed set is suitably garish. Frankly, it feels like a miracle that this comic gem is still perfectly intact, and still bringing such palpable joy to theatre-goers. I’m a believer!

See the original article here. 

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