The Book of Mormon Bristol Hippodrome:
Thursday 16 January 2020 at 19.30pm
Photos: Paul Coltas
Enthusiasm, love and cheering raised the roof at the Bristol Hippodrome last night, in a show that was ovation worthy by the interval.
The Book of Mormon is a strong satire, not for the unwary, but brilliantly created and makes an astute comment not just on religion and faith, but Western perspectives of Africa. You can see the Monty Python influences and the Airplane moments and though this is an American musical, it brims with British humour.
The brilliant opening number Hello, introduces us to a group of fresh-faced young Mormons. They have completed their training and are to be paired up and sent off on a two-year mission to convert more people to Mormonism. Well, “God loves Mormons and he wants some more,” in what is also a unique spin on a coming of age story.
The self-absorbed, preppy Elder Price (Robert Colvin) is paired up with the nerdy and lacking in self-confidence Elder Cunningham (Connor Peirson). To the former’s horror, their mission will take place in Uganda despite desperately praying to be sent to Orlando. And if things couldn’t get worse, he’s not impressed with his enthusiastic and clingy companion who has a Little Problem of resorting to lying when he doesn’t know what to say.
Unlike most Broadway/West End musicals, this is a show that really gives the two main characters a chance to develop their relationship so it feels believable. Of course, once the pair reach Uganda, it’s nothing like The Lion King, with Aids, dead animals, war lords and locals who are done with missionaries clogging up their village yet not effecting change.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, created the book, music and lyrics alongside Robert Lopez. Lopez is the co-creator of Avenue Q and Disney’s Frozen, for which he won an Oscar and Grammy for Let It Go. You can spot the Olaf in the character of Elder Cunnigham. For those with children, Lopez also shared two Emmy Awards for his music on Nickelodeon’s wonderfully operatic The Wonder Pets.
So what we have here is the perfect creative team alongside Casey Nicholaw’s choreography to create possibly the best original musical made.
These guys know musicals and satire well. You can spot musical nods and themes to shows including Annie, Lloyd Webber, Claude-Michel Schönberg, The Lion King, The Sound of Music, eleven o’clock numbers and big Broadway tap dances.
But it’s not just a pastiche, it has a thumpingly good score that you will be singing within seconds with the nuanced moments of Sal Tlay Ka Siti – the dream of a better life where “flies don’t bite your eyeballs and human life has worth”.
Turn It Off, is a tremendously funny song about switching off and containing difficult feelings accompanied with a showstopping tap dance routine. Its humour comes from the very tragedy in it. I Believe, is about finding your lost faith – “A warlord who shoots people in the face, what’s so scary about that” – delivered in the way Julie Andrews musters confidence to face the Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music.
The show avoids the outrage that Jerry Springer the Opera created just a few years’ earlier to Mormon. The departing audience was greeted with warmth by real Mormons on St Augustine’s Parade, handing out leaflets about their faith. A far cry from the small protest the theatre attracted with Springer.
Although the musical plays with Mormonism – “I believe that God has a plan for all of us, I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet,” – at its very heart, the group of Mormons are eager, sincere and highly likeable. Whilst operating as a homogeneous mass in their identikit shirts, ties and name badges, what is lovely about watching them, even when the action is elsewhere, is you get a real sense of their characters and background.
This is why the juxtaposition of Hasa Diga Eebowai works so well. The song contains some of the most shocking lyrics you will find in musical theatre batted off a pair of essentially Good Guys. “Does it mean no worries for the rest of your days?” Elder Cunnigham asks in wonder. And what white Brit hasn’t watched The Lion King musical and subconsciously thought about a nice African safari.
This is what you hold onto when the darker moments of the song about babies challenges white privilege. Watching some of the black actors playing the racial stereotype of black Africans attributed to them in British society is awkward as hell at times. The straight-faced White Saviour song We Are Africa is exactly what we deserve. And, Elder Cunnigham’s continuing bungling of Nabulungi – Netflix, Nigel Farage, Necrophilia – effortlessly highlights unconscious bias.
There are so many sci-fi references in this show, from Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Uhura, Boba Fett and Yoda. Elder Cunnigham’s geeky awkward character is also used as a vessel to introduce ideas of Mormon Cosmology. These find their way into his proselytising with great comic effect after he’s left to preach a book he’s not actually read. The Book of Mormon never feels like a direct attack on the faith and ultimately, no matter the religion and even if you don’t actually believe in God, one of the messages is that it can be used as a force for good and unity.
The Book of Mormon is a strong ensemble piece. It would be unfair to single any cast member out against the other because each performance was just so brilliant. From the two leads, right through to the dancing Starbucks cups in Spooky Mormon Hell Dream – another musical number that was a stroke of genius. There was nothing about this show that I didn’t love. By the time it finished, my face ached from laughing so much and every song earned my Big Bravo hand clap that flaps together like a seal. I loved it so much, I’ve downloaded the soundtrack and already have tickets to go back and see it again.
Someone on Twitter mentioned that every time they see the show they leave wanting to become a Mormon and that’s exactly how it makes you feel. It’s not about the religion, it’s about the coming together and being part of something better and sharing that better with others, even if that includes a Death Star, a Mormon name badge and a supply of frogs.
The show is selling fast and if you are struggling to get a ticket, Hippodrome box office updates shows good availability from 03 February 2020 onwards. This is a show you won’t want to miss and will definitely want to see again.
The Book of Mormon is at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 22 February 2020.
The show contains strong language and satirical comment on just about everything
For more information and to book, visit: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-book-of-mormon/bristol-hippodrome/