Updated: Sep 25, 2022
"The Book of Mormon" is not like "Jesus Christ Superstar". It is not a basic retelling of the third testament of Jesus, although there are elements of that, and I have to say, from watching this musical, I did learn things about Mormonism that I did not know beforehand.
The musical follows two young Mormons, Price (Robert Colvin) and Cunningham (Conner Peirson) as they are sent on a mission to Uganda to spread the word of the Mormon church. The show is incredibly adult (with some 'jokes' perhaps coming across as vulgar), but this does not mean it is not also incredibly funny. I particularly enjoyed Jordan Lee Davies as Elder McKinley, a Mormon struggling to 'turn off' his gay thoughts.
Yet, underlying all the jokes is an incredibly serious story, that of famine in Uganda and the fact that the people who live there see no point in believing in God since, if He exists, why would He force them to suffer so much? In their own special way, Price and Cunningham give the Ugandans (including Ewen Cummins as Mafala Hatimbi and Aviva Tulley as his daughter Nabulungi) something to believe in. And yes, along the way they manage to reference Darth Vader, Hobbits and have a dance-off with Nazis and Attilla the Hun in a 'Spooky Mormon Hell Dream'.
It does, however, come across as the white men saving the Africans, which I'm not sure is the right message for today, especially with films such as Black Panther leading the way in telling African stories. I imagine the musical may feel very dated in a few years time.
I also can't work out if the show is offensive to the Mormon faith or not. They definitely poke fun at some of the Mormon beliefs, continually pointing out the Joseph Smith's story of 'finding golden plates but never showing anyone' seems incredibly far-fetched. However, the show ultimately is about how belief can make your life better, whether that's belief in the Mormon faith or belief in something else. The real-life Mormons that waited to greet us and hands us leaflets as we left the show certainly seemed to think that this important message counterbalanced the other jokes that the musical had made about them.
Overall, I have mixed views on 'The Book of Mormon'. Yes, it was funny. Yes, it was exciting. But never before have I seen a comedy musical that inspired so many different debates. On the way home, Chris, Elise and I weren't discussing the rude jokes or dancing Nazis - we were discussing religion, belief and the power of God.
Tom Morley, August 2022