How is it that the satire about one religion can lead to such violence, while another leads to a Broadway musical? In The Book of Mormon part of the answer lies just below its hilariously irreverent jab at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Not of course that those of us of the Christian faith don’t look at some of the Mormon teachings (real and imagined) with gleeful derision, but if the creators of The Book of Mormon, the same duo that gave us television’s equally audacious South Park, had set their eyes on pretty much any religion, the result would have been the same. For this musical’s biggest strength isn’t just about generating laughs at the expense of the Mormon faith, but in putting up a mirror to the hubris of religion in general.
Some pretty heavy stuff for a musical comedy, but in its clever satire The Book of Mormon skilfully goes where many have failed in the past. Even as we follow Elder Price and Cunningham to the dark reaches of Uganda, we can’t help but be reminded of the arrogance of the many religions that proselytize around the world while simply ignoring that it isn’t religion that is needed. There is, of course, a special irony in having chosen Uganda as the locale for The Book of Mormon’s given that country’s real-world influx of fundamentalist Christians that has created one of the world’s most intolerant countries towards its LGBT citizens.
But don’t let this show’s underlying sober religious commentary fool you, for The Book of Mormon remains one of the funniest shows that you will see on stage. Ever.
Where else will you get the hilarious opening number “Hello” that takes the Mormon-at-the-door joke to a whole new level, or the equally hilarious (and blasphemous) “Hasa Diga Eebowai” that pokes delightful fun at the sanitized Africa of The Lion King while simultaneously giving god the finger. “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” is any believers worst nightmare and “Joseph Smith American Moses”, with its nod to “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” from The King and I, is simply inspired.
Helping to bring all its laugh-out-loud foolishness to life are two of the finest touring company leads that you will see anywhere as Bill Harrigan Tighe and A.J. Holmes take on the roles of Elders Price and Cunningham respectively. Holmes is particularly good here in channeling the socially awkward Cunningham and brings down the house in the act one closer “Man Up”. Tighe is as all-American as you can get with his perfect hair, perfect smile, plus a great singing voice and an athleticism that is sometimes remarkable.
Alexandra Ncube gives a nuanced performance as Nabulungi, bringing a wonderful innocence trapped behind the difficulties of life in her African village, but she also highlights one of the biggest problems with this touring production: the sound. In a show where the lyrics are key, at times the singing was lost in the cavernous Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Not an unusual problem for visiting productions that must adapt to the variations of each venue, it is a particular shame when so much of this show’s strength comes from its songs. Hopefully that will change quickly as the production settles into the QE.
From a quick look at Ticketmaster it appears that the Vancouver run of The Book of Mormon is virtually sold out. Not surprising given it is still one of the hottest tickets on Broadway. And for good reason. If you can’t score tickets you can always try the lottery.
The Book of Mormon, book music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker. Music supervision and vocal arrangements by Stephen Oremus. Choreography by Casey Nicholaw. A Broadway Across Canada presentation. On stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (649 Cambie St, Vancouver) until April 12. Visit https://vancouver.broadway.com for tickets and information.