The Book of Mormon: review

South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have put their love of musicals and obsession with Mormonism together, teaming up with Avenue Q‘s Robert Lopez to produce one of the most daring musical comedies to hit Broadway.

Jon Stewart notably whipped himself into a lather about it and the New York Times called it “the best musical of this century”, but is The Book of Mormon really that good? I went along to find out.

Hype

This show has been garnering more plaudits than any show in recent memory. In addition to the almost universal critical acclaim, the show scooped the Tonys this year, picking up 9 wins from 14 nominations, including ‘Best Musical’ and ‘Best Original Score’.

Music

The music is good, but don’t expect to hear any renditions on American Idol. As you might expect, the songs work better as musical skits than powerful Broadway show-stoppers.

Opening number ‘Hello’ sets up the show perfectly and is one of the best pieces in the show, along with ‘Two by Two’, ‘All-American Prophet’, ‘Turn It Off’, and closing number ‘Tomorrow is a Latter Day’. It’s no coincidence that these are also the biggest ensemble numbers.

Of the solo numbers, ‘I Believe’ works the best.

My companion also felt the ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ sequence went on too long, though I actually enjoyed the transition into rock opera for a few minutes.

Cast

There are no weak links in the cast, though the real star of the show is the writing.

Josh Gad is undoubtedly the best of the leads, but as quirky nerd Arnold Cunningham he’s also given the most with which to work. It’s one of those performances where you struggle to think who else could have played the part if Gad wasn’t available.

Andrew Rannells, as an idealistic Elder Price determined to make his mark, plays straight man for the most part and handles the role capably but without distinction. Nikki M James won the show’s only acting Tony award with ‘Best Featured Actress in a Musical’, no doubt for her ability to introduce an emotional core to a show where people are singing about their scrotums.

Is it funny?

In a word, yes. The Stone/Parker team haven’t had to soften their approach too much for Broadway, hence the aforementioned scrotum jokes. They also manage to find gags with AIDS, civil war and child rape, so it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste.

My main criticism would be that there are times when you don’t know when they’re attempting to parody sentimentalism and when they’re really trying to be sentimental.

This isn’t the first time I think the Parker/Stone team have had this problem. Their short-lived series That’s My Bush was intended as a parody of multi-camera sitcoms, but ended up relying on many of the comic devices it was trying to lampoon for humour.

As such, it’s hard to tell whether they want us to be carried along when the material gets emotional or rolling our eyes, as with hokey songs about friendship like ‘I Am Here For You’.

The Book of Mormon is something that does try to have a heart. While it does sneer at Mormonism somewhat, it does not sneer at faith. Mormons are depicted as being a little self-deluded, but not sinister or in any way malevolent. This chimes with the Stone/Parker depcition of Mormons in Orgazmo and South Park, where members of the church are usually shown as well-meaning simpletons.

Worth it?

Definitely. The Book of Mormon lives up to its reputation as one of the funniest musicals ever made. This is a landmark show that will surely tour throughout the world over the next few years.

Tickets and further details at the Book of Mormon website.

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