Review: The Book of Mormon
Synopsis:Two mismatched Mormon missionaries attempt to convert the people of a remote Ugandan village to Mormonism but are confronted by war, poverty and disease. The young missionaries must work together and challenge their own beliefs in order to succeed.
As a fan of South Park, The Book of Mormon has been on my must-see list since its original release in 2011. I even attempted to see it at London’s the West End in 2014 but was so jet-lagged I fell asleep during the first act.
The world has changed significantly in the five years since I first attempted to see the musical and I was interested to find out whether the production from a team that claim to be “equal-opportunity offenders” can remain relevant in a society that’s increasingly sensitive to the plight of marginalised communities.
The Book of Mormon takes taboo themes like AIDs, famine, closeted homosexuality, female genital mutilation, bestiality and plays them for laughs.
The jokes are crude, offensive, shocking and often cross the line of what’s socially acceptable – this isn’t a musical for the easily offended – but this is what the musical’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have based their careers on and you know what you’re in for when you buy a ticket. It’s a first-world indulgence to be able put aside your beliefs and values for a couple of hours to laugh along to quips about topics that I’d find offensive if someone joked about in real-life.
Despite the content, it’s hard to deny the satirical wit of the script and the impeccable comic timing of the actors. There’s a reason The Book of Mormon has won numerous awards, including Grammy and Tony, and is one of the highest grossing musicals of all time.
For a production that is essentially about religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems to get off lightly with jokes centred around the absurdity of the religion’s beliefs and scripture. The Mormons are portrayed as well-meaning and optimistic with the central theme that religion can do good if its stories are taken metaphorically instead of literally.
One aspect of the musical that hasn’t aged well is its depiction of race. The majority of the story takes place in a remote Ugandan village that is rife with racist cultural stereotypes about Africa including AIDS, poverty, poor healthcare, warlords and dictators. The Ugandan people are depicted as naive and unintelligent with love-interest Nabulungi referring to using a typewriter as “texting”, absurd beliefs on the origin and cure for AIDS and a village doctor unable to heal his own venereal disease.
The Book of Mormon plays at QPAC’s Lyric theatre until 31 May and will return to Brisbane in January 2020.
Final verdict: 4/5
Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw
Blake Bowden, Nyk Bielak, Tigist Strode, Tyson Jenette and Joel Granger.