The Book of Mormon presented by Broadway Across Canada is a musical treat for theatre lovers. The Broadway and musical theatre world are lucky that Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez found their calling as they are true musical geniuses.
The sets and costumes are fairly simple but are used to wonderful effect to bring the locations to life. I thought the choreography by Casey Nicholaw who also co-directs the show, was very attuned to the feel of the show. Camp and humourous when called for, punctuated by the occasional tap dance break.
Whilst the humour can be crude at times and heavy with genital and sexual jokes, the show has a very soft caramel centre at the heart of it. Whilst poking fun at the absurdities in some organized religions, it applauds our ability as humans to be able to believe in something so strongly that you dedicate your life to it. It is a celebration of faith in its purity yet explores the journey of doubt and trials you face as a person with faith. Humans have always wanted to believe that this world is not the last leg of our journey.
On the outside it may seem that the show is making fun of poverty stricken Africans and that the jokes about female genital mutilation, aids and relations with infants are incredibly offensive, but I didn’t take it that way. These are extremely real, extremely scary issues in many parts of Africa. How many of us actually try to do something about these issues? Musicals and plays have always portrayed serious issues beneath a mask of cheerful, often choreographed numbers, back to the times when watching plays put on by travelling troupes was a way of hearing the news.
If you feel offended and would rather shut these issues out, if you think that a sad dramatic video by Unicef, 5 minutes before your tv show starts, with flies on faces of children, asking for money is enough to tackle and make these issues known, then this show is not for you. It might not be the best or only way to go about this kind of commentary but it is one way.
Ultimately the show is an entertaining masterpiece and you can delve as deep as you like into the social commentary or you can sit back, relax and enjoy a funny, musical delight.
Some particular highlights for me:
The Spooky Mormon Hell Dream Sequence. Not long into the second act this seems to come from nowhere and was a colourful flamboyant extravaganza. Offensive for more sensitive viewers but I thought it was brilliant.
Hasa Diga Eebowai. This nod to The Lion King really demonstrated the cast’s wonderful voices and gave you the first idea that faith can take many forms, and that having a philosophical or spiritual outlook can be helpful in troubled times.
Conner Peirson and Kayla Pecchioni as Elder Cunningham and Nabulungi respectively. Peirson stole the show as Cunningham, played almost as a cute cartoon character. Both Peirson and Pecchioni’s voices were beautiful. Even though Pecchioni’s accent took frequent holidays during the show, she played the character with an endearing optimism.
The fact that everybody in the cast held their own entirely with the singing. Truly glorious voices one and all.
Moments slightly off the mark:
The inconsistent accents that were sometimes Jamaican and sometimes not there at all.
The volume of the music occasionally swallowed the male voices especially of the mormons. I felt I had to strain to hear quite a few lines and heard other audience members mention this.
The portrayal of Africans and the ‘White Saviour’ was simplistic and stereotypical. Generally however this worked well enough with the narrative and there were times that they were self aware of this stereotype. It could be seen as looking through the lens of the Mormons and their idea of Africa.
The Book of Mormon is playing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from 25 - 30 September.
Tickets are available at: https://vancouvercivictheatres.com/events/the-book-of-mormon-sep-2018/
~ review by Ferne Brown
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