Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Book of Mormon, Feb 4, 2017, Melbourne ****1/2

 I was not reviewing this for Herald Sun, so this will not be in print or online for HSun. My review will be solely for this blog.  KH

Book, music & lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez & Matt Stone
Princess Theatre, Melbourne, Australia, from Feb 4, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2
 At right: Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes)
Gird your loins and smash your moral compass before entering the theatre for The Book of Mormon.

This irreverent, over-the-top, satirical production is a riot of memorable songs, absurd narrative, stoopid dancing and idiotic, religious iconography that recalls sappy prayer book pictures of Jesus and God.

Even while you shriek with laughter, you’ll cringe with shame that you are guffawing at such rampantly offensive, blasphemous, racist and scurrilous material by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, those wildly successful, bad boys of TV (South Park), film (Team America) and now musicals, with their new playground pal, Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, Frozen).

It slams The Mormons – AKA the Church of The Latter Day Saints – in this tale of two boyish and naive Mormon missionaries, Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes), whose two-year mission sends them to Uganda to convert Africans to their Church and convince them of the Mormons’ seemingly mad, almost Sci-Fi beliefs.

The show may break all standards of taste and political correctness, but it adheres religiously (ironic, eh?) to the conventions of the Broadway musical with its repertoire of singable tunes, tight choreography and fish-out-of-water characters who go on a journey into the unknown to learn about themselves and the world.

The dialogue and lyrics (Parker, Lopez, Stone) are riddled with expletives, foul-mouthed rants and grotesque references that include raping babies to cure AIDS and routine clitorectomies on village women.

Directors, Casey Nicholaw and Parker, keep up a frenetic pace of outrageously silly choreography (Nicholaw) and high-octane, comic delivery to leave the audience gasping for air as they gape open-mouthed at the sheer brutality and lunacy of it all.

Bondy captures the ambition, sense of entitlement and super egotism of Elder Price but still manages to make him likeable as he demeans his missionary companion, patronises the Ugandans and confronts his rising doubts. He questions his faith, the Heavenly Father and the loony story about Joseph Smith digging up the Book of Mormon that becomes the third book of the Christian Bible. Yeah, really!

Holmes is versatile as Elder Cunningham, the giggling Star Wars freak, investing him with childlike energy as Cunningham lets loose his wild imagination – known as lying in the Mormon church – to create new myths to address the myriad problems faced by the villagers. He digs deep to sing Man Up then converts the village when he sings Making Thing Up Again.

Bert LaBonté has a field day as village head, Mafala Hatimbi, leading the chorus in the effervescent and irreligious Hasa Diga Ebowai.

Zahra Newman who has a fine voice singing the sweet Sal Tlay Ka Siti, plays Mafala’s daughter, Nabulungi, whose name Cunningham cannot, for the life of him, get right. (He calls her Neutrogena, Nutribullet and even Nutella). Newman merges charming, bright-eyed naiveté with poignant moments of hopelessness when she feels betrayed by Cunningham’s ‘lies’.
The ensemble includes an immaculately groomed chorus of Mormon clones, dressed in pristine white shirts and pressed trousers, and beaming with glittering, white smiles and their annoyingly relentless positivity. Their chorus of Turn It Off reveals hilariously how they repress and switch off every little, provocative or unhealthy thought.

It may, however, make some audience members consider how the arrogant West (read America) slaps bandaids on horrendous, Third World problems. The Mormons may be repressed, chauvinistic and puritanical, but they are also hopeful and well meaning and they have a go at helping others, even if they go about it in a weird way. 

By Kate Herbert

Elder Price - Ryan Bondy
Elder Cunningham - A.J. Holmes
Mafala Hatimbi - Bert LaBonté
Nabulungi - Zahra Newman  (Neutrogena, Nutribullet, Nutella)
General - Augustin Aziz Tchantcho

Scenic Design – Scott Pask
Costume – Ann Roth

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