Do you think Broadway musicals are all boring and overwrought?
The Book of Mormon might just make a convert out of you.
A Broadway Across Canada production of the Tony-winning hit show — by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker with the help of an Avenue Q writer Robert Lopez – is currently running at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Successfully parodying topics such as religion, racism, famine, AIDS and female genital mutilation (among plenty more) is no mean feat but the Book of Mormon pulls it off while still managing to hit audiences in the feels.
If you want to poke fun at a major religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes for an inviting target. It certainly helps that nobody has ever heard of a Mormon extremist. Adherents to the absurd (even by Biblical standards) religion are just too gosh darn nice to imagine ever fire-bombing a performance or suing the bejesus out of blaspheming producers and are generally seen as mostly harmless simpletons fond of practicing polygamy, wearing magical underpants and baptizing dead people.
And, of course, annoying non-believers at their homes or on the street. Every year large numbers of teenage boys, comically dubbed “elders,” are buddied up and sent out into the world to do two years’ service as missionaries, ringing doorbells and distributing free copies of The Book of Mormon, basically Jesus fanfiction supposedly dictated by the Angel Moroni to a guy named Joseph Smith back in 1834.
This is where the musical begins, with go-getter alpha male Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) paired with uber-dork Elder Cunningham (a terrific A.J. Holmes), who has a dangerously un-Mormon habit of blurting out whatever lie springs to mind when under pressure. The two find themselves sent off to spread the good word, not to Elder Price’s beloved Orlando, but instead to god-forsaken Uganda, an African hellhole of a country best known for having the world’s largest standing children’s army.
Here they are tasked with converting locals to a religion that only reluctantly decided black people could officially join it in 1978. Hilarity, improbably, almost impossibly, ensues.
The whole thing is basically a big, ridiculous Disney musical — complete with show-stopping dance numbers with elaborate sets and costumes — but with the snark and sacrilege dialled up to 11. You’ll never listen to “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King (coming to Vancouver in June) the same way again after hearing “Hasa Diga Eeobowai.”
The characters are all mostly bad human beings (apart from the lovely Nabulungi, played by Alexandra Ncube) who range from hypocritically pious whites to baby-raping blacks, but they nonetheless remain strangely sympathetic, and the show ends up having enough heart to temper all the jokes made in terrible taste.
Picking on Mormons may seem like low-hanging fruit but it’s worth remembering this is the faith responsible for Glenn Beck, Donnie and Marie, Twilight author Stephenie Meyer and the risk of a Mitt Romney presidency, and whose church leaders have fought against just about every civil rights movement in the past century. They have a lot to answer for and slamming the door in the faces of teenaged boys somehow doesn’t cut it.
Shows are already mostly sold-out but there’s a nightly pre-show lottery making a limited number of tickets available at $25 each. Entries will be accepted two and a half hours prior to the 8 p.m. show with the winners announced at 6 p.m. in the plaza courtyard.