It would be fair to say that The Book of Mormon has conquered Melbourne.
The musical at the Princess Theatre, that is, not the tome from the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, although the church has been a good sport about being the butt of satire in this musical from the creators of television’s South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with their buddy Matt Stone, creator of Avenue Q.
So anything this talented trio does isn’t going to resemble The Sound of Music or Godspell in any way, shape or form.
And it doesn’t.
The Book of Mormon is a brilliant production. Rarely have I seen such wonderful upbeat energy from curtain up to curtain down, and I take my hat off to the top-class local and imported cast who deliver this showstopper.
The story takes us from Mormon Training College across to Uganda, where newly commissioned suave Elder Price and over-the-top Elder Cunningham have been sent to save souls and increase the baptisms for the local area, where such events are sadly lacking. Price dreams of a posting in civilized Orlando, but instead is stuck with Cunningham, a close companion (too close, in his opinion!) with some personality issues, as his mission partner.
As the handsome, entitled Price, Canadian all-rounder Ryan Bondy is a delight. His offsider Cunningham is played by A.J. Holmes, an American who has played the role all over the world and who has it nailed to perfection. They are two marvellous performers.
Fine local support is given by Bert La Bonté as a concerned Ugandan father of a most attractive daughter, Nabulungi, played by Zahra Newman. Having seen Newman in many straight plays, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that she also has powerhouse vocals and she absolutely shines in this show. Rowan Witt delivers a polished and believable performance as a gay missionary in denial, and the ensembles of both white missionaries and Ugandan locals sing some of the best melodies and perform knockout dance routines that would have the choreographers of the great 1940s musicals on their feet applauding.
The musical support, led by the always superb Kellie Dickerson complements the excellent performances we see on stage. And a shout out to the costume design team, for the wonderful Donald Trump-like wig for Andrew Broadbent’s Joseph Smith.
I couldn’t fault the terrific performances from every single performer in The Book of Mormon.
However, it’s not a show for the faint-hearted, and a very few people may feel as I did, that the subject matter and extreme sexual references and visual display go beyond what I found funny. But I was probably the only person in the whole audience to respond like that, so I defer to the obvious enjoyment and appreciation of my fellow opening night audience members.
It is totally blasphemous, but that’s to be expected and as Australians we tend to see this as a bit of healthy “taking the mickey” – and many of the lyrics satirizing religious practice are very funny indeed.
So if you are planning to see The Book of Mormon, just be warned that the adults-only subject matter is not for everyone. But go and make up your own mind, and applaud the brilliance of the performances that light up the Princess Theatre.