I’ve been wanting to watch The Book of Mormon for years, at least as long as long I have lived in London, but never got the chance. The comedy musical written by the creators of South Park has been running as a super hit since it was put on stage in 2011. It’s booked out for month ahead due to this huge success and well… tickets are not cheap either. And on the night we watched it, there was not a single empty seat left. Telling so?
This was my husband’s birthday treat, so I got the tickets for him for the big day and later on I booked ourselves into a hotel too and of course a after show dinner, to make it even more special – and to be honest every couple needs this. A day away away and leaving the children with the grandparents made us feel a couple again, not just mummy and daddy. Bonus: he has never watched The Book of Mormon before and was equally looking forward to see it.
The birth of the musical
Growing up in Colorado, the creators were very familiar with the Mormons and took trips to Salt Lake city where they interviewed missionaries and ex-missionaries as well. Rumour has it, initially they have had another idea for the musical involving the Scientologist church, but as they like a good lawsuit the writers decided to rather go with the Mormons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints response to the musical was, however, quite polite and they even started to take advantage of it by advertising themselves in it’s paybill.
The story is about Elder Kevin Price and Elder Arnold Cunningham traveling together to Uganda for a two-year mission. Price is a self-confident, very motivated and very devoted mormon missioner and Cunningham is his total opposite acting like a teenager, a compulsive liar with insecurities. Price is not happy about being sent to Uganda as he really hoped as the most outstanding elder of his group, he will be sent to Orlando, his dream destination. With other elders in the missionary, their task is to convert and baptise Africans – and at the moment of their arrival, the mission is still failing to convert a single soul. The song “Hasa Diga Eebowai” meaning “Fuck You, God” tells how the people of the village are fed up with their circumstances of poverty, AIDS, genital mutilation, and being oppressed by warlords. No wonder, that they couldn’t care less about the Americans turning up and preaching about John Smith and other mormon prophets. Facing all these the difficulties and the disappointment leads Elder Price to abandon the mission and request his transfer to Orlando. This leaves Elder Cunningham with no choice, but man up to the role and try everything to covert the villagers – even if this involves some hilarious lies about how wookies played an important role in story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He successfully convinces the villagers and baptises Nabulungi, the daughter of the Mafala – followed by the rest of the village. But when the mission president visits the mission to see this miraculous success with his own eyes and the villagers perform a play based on all the lies Elder Cunningham told them, Cunningham’s secret gets revealed. The mission gets dismissed and the missioners are sent home. Nabulungi, heartbroken has to tell to the rest of the village that all the promises about going to the paradise were a big lie. But the villagers response surprises her: they never believed in Cunningham’s story for a minute. At this point Elder Price arrives and they scare the warlord away. Happy ending with the Ugandans converting and evangelising to The Book of Arnold.
The show is around 2 and a half an hour long with 15 minutes interval, which sound long – but trust me, time flies whilst watching the show. In the interval there is time to grab a drink (which you can pre-order before the show and just pick it up at the dedicated booth in the foyer) and nip to the toilet too – there’s normally a queue but it moves quickly. The foyer – and the whole theatre – is beautifully restored in art deco style so do take the time to notice all the gorgeous details.
The songs are very catchy and the lyrics are just as the Southpark episodes: absolutely hilarious, sometimes rude, a little bit offensive and outspoken. My favourite songs were the Hasa Diga Eebowai, Man Up (almost a Christian rock parody), Turn It Off and I am Africa. My favourite scene was the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream and Turn It Off.
The cast is incredibly talented and I think they have clearly found the right actors for each role, because all of them delivered an amazing performance. Apart from the two lads in the leading roles: Dom Simpson and J. Micheal Finley, I particularly enjoyed watching Steven Webb’s two characters: Moroni and Elder McKinley, the latter is a real crowd pleaser role. Leanne Robinson is also fantastic in her role Nabalungi.
All-in-all I should say that this tongue-in-cheek comical musical is one of the bests I’ve ever seen and worth all the wait and the price tag. I would say it’s comparable to the genius of Mel Brooks, and that it meets with the standards of Young Frankenstein – my favourite comical musical. I’m converted!
It is strictly forbidden to take photos or videos during the performance, so I only took one with the actors during the auction they held after the performance finished, benefiting the charity Acting for Others. For those, who helped the charity on the evening by giving money, the actors offered the opportunity to take photos with them. Such a lovely thing to do!