FRED Watch Quickie Theatre Review: The Book of Mormon (2017-2018)
I’m a Wayne Stellini and welcome to FRED Watch, where we review everything from the mainstream to the obscure. Today’s theatrical production is The Book of Mormon…
Two Mormon missionaries, the ambitious Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) and socially awkward Elder Cunningham (Nyk Bielak), attempt to share their scriptures with the inhabitants of a remote Ugandan village, where their fellow missionaries have failed to baptise anyone.
The young men are challenged by the lack of interest of the locals, who are more concerned with such issues as AIDS, famine, female genital mutilation, and their warlord…
When accepting that a musical about Mormon missionaries comes from the the collective imaginations behind the animated television series South Park and the theatrical Sesame Street parody Avenue Q, you feel as though you know what sort of show you’re about to experience.
And while there are common trademarks of South Park‘s Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q‘s Robert Lopez throughout The Book of Mormon, an audience has no right to express offense at the material. Also, those who are familiar with the creative minds behind the show will be pleased to know that this production stands on its own.
Parker and Stone frequently poke fun of and critique religious institutions (most notably, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Scientologists), however the easily-targeted Latter Day Saints seems to be their favourite subject matter. (The 1997 sex comedy Orgazmo was an early indication of this trajectory.) That is not to say, however, that The Book of Mormon does not have a lot to say on a broad range of matters; it is an effective critique on fundamentalism and traditional patriarchal customs, among other topics. Additionally, it is a sweet story of friendship and the importance of community.
Like all good musical comedies, the songs are catchy and humorous, with opening number Hello! setting the tone perfectly. The show is ideally paced and maintains a solid momentum throughout, with the cast’s incredibly infectious energy and enthusiasm adding to the atmosphere. The cast is always in fine form, particularly the stunning Zahra Newman as Nabulungi and audience favourite Rowan Witt as closeted queer stereotype Elder McKinley. As our protagonists, Bielak has the ideal geeky adorable qualities the role of Elder Cunningham dictates, but make no mistake about it, The Book of Mormon belongs to Bondy. Oozing more charm and enthusiasm that you would think is humanly possible, it is difficult to take your eyes off him; his portrayal of Elder Price is quite easily the production’s strongest component. In the realm of contemporary musical theatre, Ryan Bondy is perfection personified.
The almost sold-out matinee audience I sat with was hooked from the get-go, buzzing during the interval, and laughing throughout. And this is where The Book of Mormon succeeds. It works on a number of levels, coming together so swimmingly, that it would be difficult for the production not to have broad appeal, particularly in a city such as Melbourne. This is not to say that the show is completely flawless: when the writing is so clever, are gags about feces and blood really necessary? Also, there is so much movement and noise during some songs that not every lyric will be heard clearly by each audience member, particularly those in the nose-bleeds. But with a production that is so engaging and entertaining, these are minor quips.
Do not be mistaken, it is impossible for The Book of Mormon to live up to the hype—it is not the greatest musical of the century, though it may come close! 4½ / 5
Starring: Ryan Bondy, Nyk Bielak, Zahra Newman, Bert LaBonté, Rowan Witt, Andrew Broadbent, Augustin Aziz Tchantcho.
Book, Music, Lyrics: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone | Directors: Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker | Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw | Musical Supervisor, Vocal Arrangements: Stepher Nremus | Music Director: Kellie Dickerson | Associate Producers: Laura Manning, Ben Prudhoe
Limited tickets still available for the Melbourne season at the Princess Theatre, which ends on 4 February 2018.
Let us know what you thought of this production in the comments!
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