I waited for curtain up with no preconceptions. I did not know the plot. I knew none of the songs. I did know that the show has been phenomenally successful on Broadway and the West End grossing over $500m since its premier in 2011. Theatreland is savage towards poor shows – quite clearly, this had passed the test of public approval.
I know someone who had been to see it last year. She was obtuse about the plot and content. Maybe that is because superficially, a plot that centres around a mission of smug Mormons trying to convert a remote Ugandan village to their faith while paedophilia, female genital mutilation, summary execution, and sodomy abound, seems unlikely box office success. But it is. A delightful rich vein of sardonic wit is at the core of the show. Is life a bit shit? Well a trite saying will change all of that, as evidenced by the hilarious and catchy “Hakuna Matata” send-up “Hasa Diga Eebowai” , a wicked alternate take on Disney’s “Lion King” from which there are several references.
Because underneath the shock lines there is an old fashioned tale. One where the awkward, geeky, guy comes good, and gets the girl, and the vainglorious hero gets his comeuppance and eats humble pie. Also, in an era in which Theatre is trying to adjust to the ethnic demographic around it, a sizeable chunk of the cast is Black African. What you see on stage is reflected by the diversity that you experience as you leave the theatre and walk onto the street.
Three performers dominate the show. Robert Colvin is the tall, athletic, All American hero Elder Price, with the Colgate Dental Ring of Confidence, who is upstaged by his plucky, diminutive, rotund missionary companion Connor Peirson, as Elder Cunningham. It is a fabulous double act. Their physical tall and small / slim and fat juxtaposition makes for marvellous physical comedy, their nuanced performances as their roles change are subtle and heart-warming.
However, the star of the show is Nicole-Lily Baisden as Nabulungi. Sassy and energetic, she sings powerfully, and beautifully, and supercharges proceedings whenever she is on stage. There are numerous outstanding supporting performances, not least from Ewen Cummins as village elder Mafala Hatimbi, and Thomas Vernal as General Butt Fucking Naked, delightfully demented as a psychotic militia leader.
Anyone looking for a flavour of what to expect should reference the TV series South Park and the musical, Avenue Q. The music, lyrics and book of the show are by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. Parker and Stone created the animated comedy South Park. Lopez co-wrote the music for the musical Avenue Q. The humour is left field, sexual and irreverent, the lyrics contemporary and caustic, but it is all done with a smile, not a sneer, and a twinkle in the eye.
“Book of Mormon” runs until Saturday 28th March then continues on nationwide tour.