Presented by The Book of Mormon Australia
Reviewed 29 June, 2019
Although “Parental Advisory: Explicit Language” is the standard warning associated with this genial production, its sprinkling of fruity Anglo-Saxon should not deflect you from enjoying the rambunctious riches of this funny, intelligent and unexpectedly nuanced show. Its writing is smart, its premises are socially relevant, and its production values are first-class.
The subject of the book, music and lyrics, by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, may at first glance seem to be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a.k.a. the Mormons). The warm heart of this musical is, however, all about kindness to loners and losers. It asks questions about disadvantage; it gently probes the nature of outcasts in our society – who are they, and why? Enough philosophy… it’s also a scurrilously funny, hugely entertaining show.
The spread of talent on stage is remarkable. Two of the five major principals trained in America, and just under half of the rest of the cast were overseas-trained. From the first group number, Hello, with ten white-shirted young Mormon men ringing doorbells, greeting householders with well-rehearsed smiles and sales shtick, the ensemble work throughout is impeccable. The Mormon missionary men in particular shine as a company. Their dance skills are impressive, their singing is splendid and beautifully balanced, and they work as a unit. Choral singing is a feature of this production, with standard music-theatre singing styles interspersed with glorious African Township sounds. The result is musically very satisfying, and also reflects the flexibility and diversity of the cast.
Driving the show are its two major protagonists, Elder Price (Blake Bowden) and Elder Cunningham (Nyk Bielak). Much of the story and its meaning derives from the contrasts between these two men. Blake Bowden’s Elder Price is a sort of Mormon Ken-doll… tall, firm-jawed, bright-eyed, self- confident and insensitive. He’s the sort that always puts his hand up first in class. Bielak’s Elder Cunningham is rumpled, overweight, bespectacled, credulous, and desperate to be liked and accepted. When he’s in a tight spot, he tells prodigious lies. The church mission authorities pair these men and send them off to convert village Ugandans; uproarious chaos ensues. Both performers bring equal energy to these roles and ensure that no comedic moment is lost. Their singing is secure and strong, and their acting work both individually and together maintains a high standard for the whole company to equal. And they do.
Ugandan villager Mafala Hatimbi is played by Tyson Jennette, member of the original Broadway cast of The Book of Mormon. His strong, generous acting work gives huge impetus to all the comedic contrasts in culture, language, skin colour and more which the arrival of Mormon missionary men provides. As his daughter, Nabulungi, Tigist Strode excels. Her vocal range and stamina are splendid, and she shows an equally broad gamut of acting skill. As District Leader of the African mission, Joel Granger’s glorious Elder McKinley drives dance numbers and raises laughs while quietly posing questions about inclusivity and cultural oppression.
There isn’t a traditional music theatre chorus, where lesser lights stand in rows and sing and dance together. The whole cast of this show, from lead to swing, works effectively together, multi-tasking, quick-changing from dreadful historic tableaux to Ugandan villages to hell itself… and back.
David Young, as Musical Director (and Keyboards), drives a nine-piece band that is greater than the sum of its parts. Tidy, bright and supportive all night, their work is exceptionally well integrated and serves the action faithfully. After the show finishes, the band plays exit music as patrons leave the theatre. Sam Leske let rip a blistering guitar solo, remarkable for its gusto and bravura.
Sound is well designed, and sound quality is carefully managed throughout the performance – a remarkable feat, given the audio complexity of this show. Lighting was snappy, never more than was needed, and always complementary to the story.
This show is a remount of Broadway, so its scenic design credentials are Scott Pask’s. His proscenium frame (complete with rotating golden angel), backcloths, sets and trucks are imaginative, multi-purpose and psychologically evocative. (A good example is the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream set.) Everything adds to the energy and direction of the narrative.
Directed flawlessly by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, this is a brilliantly produced, strongly acted, sung and danced piece of entertainment, performed by a cohesive, highly skilled cast. So, is it all about religion? I reckon it’s more about politics – people and empowerment. Its messages are gentle and often inferred. We laugh, and then we think. And there’s the power of this piece.
Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Rating out of 5: 5 stars. – I believe!
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby
Venue: Festival Theatre
Season: 26th June – 11th August 2019
Duration: 2.5 hrs
Tickets: $220:00 / $170:00 / $140:00 / $96:90 / $60:00
Book: https://bookofmormonmusical.com.au or Bass Ticketing 131 246