The Book of Mormon has been making waves since it first appeared on Broadway, a South Park of musicals that lambasts the Mormon religion through obscenity-laced song and dance numbers. Yet for all of that, the show has a heart and a compelling story, of two young men who want to do right by their faith and a community of oppressed and tormented Ugandans who must learn to stand together to save themselves from a military dictator.
Created by the comedy team of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon takes your breath away at every possible moment by daring to go where no West End musical has ever gone before, whether it’s shouting ‘Fuck you God’ in a catchy, full–company number (“Hasa Diga Eebowai”) or graphically depicting homosexual sex acts between devils, Jesus, the main character’s father and Hitler, among others (“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”). Not all of its obscenity is for shock value, however, as the characters also speak with brutal honesty about such problems as female genital mutilation and the AIDS epidemic in Africa that villagers in Uganda have to confront on a daily basis. And even as it mocks the tenants of the Mormon religion, with full reenactments of scenes including Joseph Smith and Jesus as well as musical numbers celebrating the necessity of suppressing all troublesome emotions (“Turn it Off”), the musical seems to approve of faith as a whole and what it can do to help people; the naivete of optimistic new convert Nabulungi (Alexia Khadime) provides a heartwarming narrative as she teaches her village to see beyond the immediacy of their own problems.
Elders Price (Gavin Creel) and Cunningham (Jared Gertner) are both complete caricatures of their stock types–the cool, successful one and the nerd who has always been ignored–and intensely relatable at the same time. Audiences will find themselves sympathising with Price’s horror of the brutal conditions in the district even as they root for Cunningham’s enthusiastic and totally fictional retellings of the Book of Mormon to connect with the Ugandan people. Musical numbers are delightfully catchy and dancing unapologetically camp, a full-on musical experience that will keep you laughing or squirming in your seat, depending on how you react to the South Park brand of humour. You may not find the entire show hilarious, but it will definitely make you think, and perhaps come away with a better opinion of what religion can do for people in desperate need of hope.