Chloë Edwards is ready as anything for the Welsh debut – delayed by nearly a year, natch – of this bad-taste masterpiece and worldwide theatre hit from the boys behind South Park.
It’s been 10 years since The Book Of Mormon opened in theatres in New York and won nine Tony Awards, and eight years since it debuted in London and won four Olivier Awards. Famously from the creators of South Park – heads-up for its sense of humour and 14+ age rating – The Book Of Mormon has in the last decade established itself as one of the most popular productions of the 21st century.
With the story, music, and lyrics a collective effort from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, The Book Of Mormon follows a pair of young teenage men from Salt Lake City on their first Mormon mission, which takes them to Uganda, and not Orlando (home of Disneyland Florida), as hoped. Witty, irreverent, and at times obscene, the play is a provocative and energetic coming-of-age narrative with a twist in which the two naïve missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, take their first steps outside of their native environment and religious community. Having expected to simply spread the teachings of the Book Of Mormon to the Ugandan village that sets the backdrop of their mission, they discover a community preoccupied with the more pressing issues of FGM, HIV/AIDS, and famine.
Of course, such a plot synopsis takes a certain skill to pull off and evade pure controversy, and the play’s sense of humour has been key to its success, enduring popularity, and exploration of youthful inexperience. As well as satirically analysing the beliefs of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints, at the core of the play is an examination of misconceptions of other cultures and communities, friendship, and a narrative that concludes by reflecting on the trouble with living by the literality of their scriptures instead of their core messages.
The journeys of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, respectively portrayed by Robert Colvin (Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Legally Blonde, Grease) and Conner Peirson (The Book Of Mormon’s Broadway run, plus Little Shop Of Horrors), are enlightened through a score that’s both catchy and clever. Turn It Off details the struggles and apparent ease at repressing “bad feelings” such as grief and homosexuality by likening it to flicking off a light switch, whilst Making Things Up Again relies on references to popular culture to fill in gaps in a young missionary’s knowledge of the Book – and the hypocrisy of an individual preaching that lying is wrong.
With a full cast of 29 actors including Colvin, Peirson and Aviva Tulley (who plays Nabulungi, a Ugandan acolyte of Cunningham), the tour’s mission to Cardiff picks up where the 2020 tour left off due to events of the past year, and undoubtedly something its fans have long been waiting for. With its gestures to iconic musicals of the past – think nods to The Sound Of Music and The Lion King – it’s worth going to see for its witty lyrics, navigation of a culture clash, and individuality.
It’s not hard to understand the accolades and enduring popularity of The Book Of Mormon, a book that might just, as Elder Price and Cunningham would say, change your life.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Tue 12-Sat 30 Oct. Tickets: £15.50-£94. Info: 029 2063 6464 / here
words CHLOË EDWARDS