BWW REVIEW: Hilarious, Crass And Incredibly Clever, THE BOOK OF MORMON Opens To Roars Of Laughter In Sydney

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Friday 9th March 2018, 7pm, Lyric Theatre Sydney

The Australian production of the multi award winning American musical THE BOOK OF MORMON has opened in Sydney to an incredibly rousing reception. Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s smash hit musical which challenges traditional musical theatre sensibilities as it sends up organised religion and western culture’s ignorance and arrogance whilst holding a heart-warming message of care and compassion was met with roars of laughter from an eager audience.

Filled with catchy tunes with smart lyrics, The Book of Mormon follows two young Mormon missionaries on the first mission, to convert the people of a remote village in Uganda. Handsome and ‘perfect’ golden boy Elder Kevin Price (Ryan Bondy) and awkward compulsive liar Elder Arnold Cunningham ( A.J. Holmes) are paired for their first mission after graduating from The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church) Missionary Training Centre. The unlikely duo join a team of Mormon Elders, led by Elder McKinley ( Rowan Witt), who have failed to achieve any conversions and baptisms of the locals. With the conceit of the first world and organised religion to support him, Elder Price is not dissuaded, believing he can succeed where the rest have failed despite having no awareness that until his religion can ease the villagers worries of greater things like AIDS, a tyrannical war-lord, and lack of food and water, he will be unsuccessful in effecting any conversions.

With Parker and Stone having being the creators of SOUTH PARK and Lopez having co-written the music for Avenue Q, it is natural that the trio have been unapologetically overt in their mocking of Mormons, Americans and privileged society in general as they convey the contradictions of religion and the obnoxious ignorance and arrogance of western society as it tries to ‘fix’ other cultures it knows little about. The promotion of faith and scripture is seen as more important than living with humanity and compassion as whilst Elder Price is practically perfect in terms of his religious education, he, and others, have a materialistic greed, conceit and narcissism that sees him treat his Mission brother abominably. Whilst Elder Cunningham is much more endearing as the unpopular misfit, his lack of effort and concern with trying to remember Nabulungi’s (Zahara Newman) name and the whole mission’s view that they are more African than the Africans when they achieve conversions captures the conceit and blundering lack of care so many ‘aid’ providers have for the people they claim to be helping.

Scenic Designer Scott Pask has draws the audience in to see the world as the Mormons see it with a drop-in proscenium that draws inspiration from the Salt Lake Temple of the LDS Church in Utah, complete with the golden Angel of Moroni standing on top of the centre pinnacle. His expression of America is simple and idolised with bright backdrops which prove a stark contrast to the realism he has employed for the Ugandan village which has depth and bleakness. Ann Roth’s costumes express the difference between the clean cut American boys and the individuality and ingenuity of the Africans. The male centric Mormon society which has men spread the word of God is also reinforced when the Elder Price and Elder Cunningham’s families are considered more closely.

As with other international productions of The Book of Mormon, Directors Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw (also Choreographer) have opted to bring in international performers for the roles of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham with Bondy and Holmes having filled the roles in US and UK productions of the show prior to joining the Australian production. The majority of the rest of the cast features local talent with the addition of a few international performers in ensemble roles to ensure the production retains an authenticity in ethnicity.

Ryan Bondy has the requisite charming good looks to go with image of the perfect Mormon which he ensures is seen as shallow and ambitious until he sees the light in the form of the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream. Bondy captures the goody two shoes ingrained optimism which has an underlying narcissism and need for adulation perfectly in You And Me and All American Prophet. He ensures that the audience rapidly decide that they don’t really like the overinflated egotistical missionary, but he regains some credibility when he realises that Elder Cunningham was right in believing that the message was more important than the story.

A.J. Holmes is endearing as Elder Cunningham, presenting the geeky sci-fi movie fan with an active imagination with a suitable level of nerdiness and eagerness to please which hides his personal struggle of being constantly seen as a disappointment. He presents Elder Cunningham’s growth in confidence with the recognisable awkwardness of someone not fully convinced that he’s done something right and the innuendo infused Baptize Me captures the comedy of the double entendre.

Bert LaBonté is fabulous as Mafala Hatimbi, the Uganda villager who serves as a local leader to introduce the missionaries to the realities of the village’s problems with the catchy Hasa Diga Eebowai. Mafala’s daughter Nabulungi is presented with innocence and longing to be part of a the modern world by Zahara Newman. Newman presents a hopeful and beautiful Sal Tlay Ka Siti and an innocent Baptize Me as Nabulungi starts to fall for Elder Cunningham despite the fact that he can’t get her name right. Rowan Witt is delightful as the repressed Elder McKinley, leading the missionaries in Uganda. He leads the amusing parody on religious views on homosexuality with an energy and eagerness that ensures it is clear that Elder McKinley isn’t completely convinced by the philosophy he is espousing.

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Filled with catchy music that will have you humming before you realise the content of some of the songs (this show is definitely not for sensitive ears) THE BOOK OF MORMON is a must see. Mocking society, shining a spotlight on the bad things that have been allowed to continue under the guise of religion, and exposing the continued belief in white privilege, this is a show for anyone. THE BOOK OF MORMON will satisfy Musical theatre devotees with big dance numbers, comical costumes and a plot line that allows for a happy ending.

THE BOOK OF MORMON

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