Written by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, The Book of Mormon is, needless to say, offensive.
Here, their previous work (Cannibal: The Musical, Team America: World Police, Baseketball) serve as something of a qualifier: if you aren’t (too) offended by these, The Book of Mormon will be worth a try. If you can’t bring yourself to get through them? You’ll want to steer clear.
At the same time, this is to give The Book of Mormon short shrift: There is a lot more to this play. The Book of Mormon is no two-hour long South Park episode. It has depth to mine for those who are okay with bracing the sheer offensiveness.
The musical has been running internationally for seven years. The Australia production started in January 2017 and moved to its current run at the Lyric Theatre at the beginning of 2018. It tells the story of young Mormon elder Kevin Price, a wunderkid whose parents raise him with the expectation that he will be a great missionary. His ego further inflated by the Mormons who train him, Kevin finds his hopes mission in Orlando dashed. Sent instead to Uganda with compulsive liar Arnold Cunningham, Elder Price encounters indifference to his message and hostility from a local warlord.
As a comedy musical, The Book of Mormon has a number of memorable songs and set pieces. A song called “Man Up”, the closing medly and a guilt-fuelled song called “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” are some of the catchier highlights.
The Australian cast delivers all of this with aplomb. The main cast includes the American actors Ryan Bondy (Elder Price), A. J. Holmes (Elder Cunningham) and Zahra Newman (Nabulungi).
While its humour won’t appeal to everyone, The Book of Mormon manages to maintain its hilarity throughout, in a way that is rare.
Kevin Price’s story of dealing with his tough placement after a lifetime of inflated expectations is one that has more than a little resonance with the Gospel’s call to give up everything in following Christ. Subplots regarding the way that some of the church members have been required to deal with ‘negative’ emotions by supressing them is a scathing criticism of a tendency that can be part of church life. There is also a serious theological critique about metaphor and legend building that can be discerned…somewhere underneath all the laughter and inappropriate references.
The Book of Mormon is now playing at the Sydney Lyric Theatre
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor