Female circumcision, rape, murder, and poverty are hardly the usual makings of a sparkling musical, but they are in The Book of Mormon; which also happens to be one of the most musical theatre-y musical theatre shows I’ve ever seen.
We’re talking glitterball lighting, anthemic soaring tunes, and rousing tap dance numbers. Whilst also taking the piss out of other musicals.
There’s also surprisingly, a lot of heart. Some of it is misdirected, but usually it is in the right place. The show is ultimately one about hope and escapism as everybody we meet has a reason to believe in a higher power, and a place to retreat to – metaphorically or not.
The Book of Mormon follows the misadventures of two Latter-day missionaries, golden boy Elder Price (Robert Colvin) and wildly imaginative Elder Cunningham (Conner Pierson) in Uganda. The two leads are are absolute dynamite and play anti-heroes with cocksure gusto.
After arriving in Uganda, the duo are shocked to discover that their first world problems of lost luggage, late buses and guilt from eating a maple-glazed donut, don’t resonate well with the villagers. Under the leadership of Mafala (a charismatic Ewen Cummins), the locals chant "Hasa Diga Eebowai" with their middle fingers to the sky in a rally cry of ‘fuck you, God’ – much to the dismay of the Elders, but to the cathartic relief of the poor guy who has maggots in his scrotum.
In response, Elder Price’s faith starts to falter whilst Elder Cunningham thrives and begins to convert the village by adapting fantasy tales from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
Along the way, these teachings are largely mis-interpreted. In one belly-laugh scene, the villagers re-enact the story of Joseph Smith and Cunningham’s teachings in a play ("Joseph Smith American Moses") and upload it to the Mormon Facebook page via an iPad.
The clever satirical writing from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone plays with perception. They mock all-American perceptions of African culture from the ideals of a white saviour with candid references to stats about AIDS and virginal sacrifices. Delivered with aplomb by the cast – each energetically excellent – the dialogue is clean cut whilst being absolute filth.
Each number has a point and purpose, and The Book of Mormon has pitch perfect timing in every respect. The orchestra and musical direction (by Colm O’Regan) is bold, scenic design (by Scott Pask) is dynamic but not distracting, and the use of props and costumes (by Ann Roth) - there’s everything from dead animals to appearances from Hitler and “the guy who freed OJ Simpson” is wildly intuitive.
No part is overdone or stretched for laughs. If you miss it, you miss it. There is no time for overthinking or feeling bad for laughing.
It’s two rip-roaring hours of perfectly paced comedy. The ensemble cast are mighty and look to be having as wickedly good fun as the audience. Characters are richly developed through their numbers: Aviva Tulley’s star performance as Nabulungi is surprisingly tender as she yearns angelically for a safe place to live in her ballad "Sal Tlay Ka Siti", and Jordan Lee Davies portrays a diva-esque Elder McKinley in a brilliant "Turn It Off".
You could say that the efforts of the Elders have truly converted me.
Catch the Mormons in Nottingham till September 10th, as they continue on tour.