Left – Ryan Bondy and Augustin Aziz Tchantcho. Cover – Phyre Hawkins, Ryan Bondy and A.J. Holmes. Photos – Jeff Busby
The Book of Mormon is beyond exceptional. It is worth every star, every word of praise and every award that it has won.
This is not the first foray into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The pair have sharpened their canine teeth on this subject in their infamous TV series South Park and the movie Orgazmo. However, Stone and Parker are revisiting their commentary on Mormons in a much kinder way, focusing on the well-meaning side of the faith despite its flaws. The ridiculous is by no means given respite. The sharp wit and genius humour that have made Parker and Stone’s comedy notorious is not muted. Lovers of South Park won’t be disappointed and this production creates an opportunity for a whole new audience to enjoy musical theatre.
Robert Lopez’s has an extraordinary magic touch when it comes to musicals. From the animated film Frozen he gave us the hit song, Let it Go and he co-created the stage hit, Avenue Q. Combining the three writers Lopez, Trey and Parker created a Holy Trinity that resulted in The Book of Mormon.
This trinity brings you a story that shines brighter than each set of perfect white Mormon teeth. It is the tale of two Mormon missionaries who at the age of 19 are paired off and sent to Africa. Their job is to convert local villagers and share the scripture that lies within The Book of Mormon. They face not only the brutal realities of life in Uganda but a wavering of faith. These hurdles throw the two young men in different directions and The Book of Mormon is their story of how they come to terms with faith and reality. The Book of Mormon tells you of the humanity that lives in each fervent smile permanently fastened to the face of every Mormon.
The Book of Mormon’s brilliance is in the way the story is balanced. The sunlight and the shadows, the hope and despair. They present you with bright hopeful souls whose only dream is to make life better. The musical numbers leave you brimming with mirth and joy. They put you face to face with death, disease, famine and mutilation. They do all this with comic genius and musical flair. The result is an honest brutality that you can sit with without sinking into a pit of despair. A heart felt joy that doesn’t slide into the realm of make believe.
The cast are incredible. Ryan Bondy as Elder Kevin Price and A.J. Holmes as Elder Arnold Cunningham have played these parts before in numerous productions from the USA to London and Canada to its Australian debut in Melbourne. Their experience shows. Elder Price follows a pride-before-fall story and, although it may seem predictable, Bondy encapsulates the ambition that consumes his character and the subsequent realization that all is not as it seems. Holmes’s Elder Cunningham, transforms too but in the opposite direction. He begins as a buffoon. A well-meaning but annoying partner to the confident and motivated Elder Price. Cunningham’s transformation is subtler. His personality doesn’t change it is more his posture that sharpens, his step shifts and he comes into his own. Both Bondy and Holmes are hard to find fault in.
Zahra Newman was magnificent as Nabulungi. She is eternally optimistic and portrays a good natured character with a strong conviction and a powerful voice. Her duet with Elder Cunningham ‘Baptize Me’ is a highlight full of innocence and sexual innuendo. It had the audience in fits of laughter and her part was played with perfection.
All the performances were outstanding. The eternally upbeat Mormon missionaries suppressing all emotion except faith and hope, make you want to laugh and cry at the same time. The song ‘Turn It Off’ is the highlight of the Mormon missionaries who do a fantastic job of communicating the two worlds that exist in their lives: one, life’s hardships and the other, the endless upbeat ability to not think about things, just shut them up in a box and not give them the light of day.
The villagers brought to the audience the fear of living under a brutal warlord, the terror of female circumcision, the poverty and hopelessness in their lives. Yet they kept us smiling and their opening song Has Digo Eebowai, which basically tells God where to go, encapsulated that dichotomy astonishingly well.
The set, costume, sound and lighting designers all combined to make this production the most marvelous malarkey ever seen. Every hand that worked to get this production on the stage deserves high fives and accolades.
The Book of Mormon is remarkable. It is a joyful production of creative hilarity and exceptional talent. I almost believe that although I may not join them, should a soul clutching the Book of Arnold knock on my door, I might just let them in.
The Book Of Mormon
by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone.
Co-directors Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw
Venue: Lyric Theatre | 55 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont NSW
Dates: from March 9, 2018