‘The Book of Mormon’ musical review
By Roshni Riar, Staff Writer
On September 25, The Book of Mormon—in conjunction with Broadway Across Canada—opened its six-day run at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in downtown Vancouver. As a relative newbie to the world of musicals I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as the rating I gave the show might indicate, I could not have been more impressed.
The Book of Mormon is a comedy musical that follows two missionaries, the model Mormon Elder Price (played by Kevin Clay) and the eccentric and desperate Elder Cunningham (Conner Pierson), who upon graduating missionary training are sent to Uganda for their first posting with the hope of bringing in new recruits. What follows is their hilarious, brutal, and surprisingly earnest attempt at teaching the word of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to the people of the Ugandan village in which they are living.
To say that the set design, lighting, and precisely-orchestrated score were the most impressive things about the show wouldn’t be hyperbolic in the slightest. The different scenes slid, spun, and transitioned from one to the next with such fluidity that it felt like there could be no other way to witness the changing of settings. Different backdrops lifted and dropped to set the characters’ surroundings and sometimes interact with them in unexpected ways. There was a simple moment during the song “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” where Elder Cunningham is struggling to stand out against Elder Price, and the backdrop—three black walls of fabric—closes in on Elder Cunningham as he falls to his stomach and struggles to stay visible. It was like watching an iris out, a technique that was typical in old television shows right before credits roll, and it was visually striking.
The cast were all exceptional but those who stood out to me beyond the two protagonists were Elder McKinley (played by Andy Huntington Jones), a Mormon missionary who struggles to repress his homosexuality to keep hold of his faith, and Nabulungi (Kayla Pecchioni), a girl in the Ugandan village who befriends the two Elders on their mission. They both portrayed their characters brilliantly, from subtlety in emotion and humour to embodying their parts in the many songs that featured them. The musical contained a running joke in which Elder Cunningham kept mispronouncing Nabulungi’s name until it just morphed into him saying random words that began with N and even though his lines were funny, her reactions were what sold it.
I highly encourage you to listen to the soundtrack of The Book of Mormon when you get a chance. Ever since I watched the show I’ve either had a song from the musical stuck in my head or have been listening the soundtrack any chance I get. I expected good things from the writers of the script, with music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez (Parker and Stone are the creators of South Park), and I was right to assume they’d knock it out of the park. The songs, most of them either incredibly upbeat or dramatic in sound, feature heavy criticism of religion sprinkled throughout the lyrics, subtly but effectively. The commentary on organized religion is presented in such an implicit way that it made me think on the impact of the words more than if it had been spelled out for the audience.
My favourite song is “Turn It Off”, a song that the missionaries who welcome Elder Price and Elder Cunningham sing to explain how they don’t get down about the fact they haven’t made any progress on their mission work in Uganda up to that point. They explain how when they feel any doubt or confusion, they just use a “nifty little Mormon trick” and turn off their emotions. I thought that was incredibly relatable and it made me wonder how many people actually feel that way about religion or emotions in general. It was both funny and thought-provoking at the same time—much like the rest of the show, really.
As the house lights went up at the end of the two-hour show, the audience leapt to their feet and broke out in a thunderous applause. Looking around at the laughing faces around me, I finally understood why The Book of Mormon has won nine Tony Awards and garnered such critical acclaim in its time on Broadway.