REVIEW: The Book of Mormon (The Civic)

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth

Hasa Diga Eebowai

The Book of Mormon is a deliciously devilish critique belief and human frailty in our world today.

The story follows two Latter-day Saints missionaries as they attempt to convert the inhabitants of a remote Ugandan village to the “true faith”. The well-meaning, and somewhat earnest young men are challenged by a lack of interest from the locals, who are preoccupied by more pressing issues such as HIV/AIDS, famine, female genital mutilation, and oppression by the village warlords. 

Despite running on Broadway for almost a decade, The Book of Mormon is still as relevant today as when first staged. And, as expected, South Park writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s prose is totally subversive and successfully challenges our views of what is right and wrong, and more importantly the extremes to which people will go to impose that view.

Covering white privilege, religion, bigotry, hope, sex, jealousy, ignorance and terror in equal measure, The Book of Mormon has barbed insults for absolutely everyone.  Correspondingly, every possible cultural misunderstanding is milked dry and turned into the most endearing, cheesiest musical numbers.  Their ability to tread that dangerous line between delightful and cringeworthy commentary is deftly walked, if not sprinted, through this fast-paced extravaganza.  Likewise, the song Hasa Diga Eebowai (which literally translates into Fuck You God), truly sets the no-holds-barred standard and tone of the music and lyrics early on.

Clearly the tongue-in-cheek content of The Book of Mormon has made it one of the bestselling musicals of all time.  

Robert Lopez’s (writer of Avenue Q) collaboration with the better-known Parker and Stone, is clearly a match made in heaven.  Their clever use of musical and lyrical irony is skilfully delivered by the the cast, astutely led by Musical Director David Young.  The ‘un-PC’ dialogue initially provokes nervous tittering around us, ultimately building to a crescendo of unbridled hilarity. Several people lost it completely, and we even witnessed one person massaging her face during interval to relieve the pain of her incessant laughter.

The all-Australian cast is rawer and more cutting than the London version we saw over three years ago.  They are noticeably sharper, braver and more piercing than we remember, with an immediacy that is so much more poignant and topical today.

Although slightly less expansive than the London set, the Australasian travelling set feels more impressive – we simply couldn’t work out how the swiftly executed transitions were done. Scott Pask’s textured set design works a treat to parallel the layers of storytelling.  In addition, the contrasting colour palate depicting Salt Lake City and Uganda is perfectly pitched. Ann Roth’s costumes help create two separate worlds with their diametrically opposing hues. Brian MacDevitt’s spectacular lighting design also expertly highlights the mood and tone to suit.

The entire cast is in perfect voice. Blake Bowen (Elder Price) and Tigist Strode (Nabulungi) are clear standouts for us tonight.  Besides the crowd-pleaser Hasa Diga Eebowai, Baptize Me and Joseph Smith American Moses are most memorable from the string of perfectly crafted musical numbers with cracker lyrics. The graphic lingo and not-so-subtle imagery has the crowd in stitches. No matter which colour of the rainbow you identify with, The Book of Mormon is bound to insult you as much as amuse you. 

Crucially, The Book of Mormon is not just a religious pisstake but also a celebration of ‘good natured-ness’ and the acceptance of humanity’s desire to do good.

It’s rare that a show is able to hold an audience’s attention for its entire duration — but it’s the clever commentary, and relentless assaults on our senses, that keeps us enraptured.  This production of The Book of Mormon is totally unmissable. Waste no time — and God willing you’ll get a ticket.

The Book of Mormon plays The Civic 6 March to 26 April, 2020. 

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