Sunderland Empire Theatre 03/09/2019
It’s the first UK tour of Matt Stone, Robert Lopez and Trey Parker’s multi-award winning production of The Book of Mormon after 6 outstanding years in London’s West End and a stint in Manchester, it’s Sunderland’s turn to host one of the most successful comedy musicals of our time. Assumptions could be made that this show from the creators of South Park and Team America: World Police would be rude, offensive and immature. Those assumptions would be correct; but not only is this show all of those things, it has heart and morals supporting the hilarious jokes and musical numbers.
The Book of Mormon tells the story of two Mormon missionaries Kevin Price (played by Kevin Clay) and Arnold Cunningham (played by understudy, Jacob Yarlett) paired together and sent to Uganda to convert the locals to the Mormon church. Elder Price is a dedicated, narcissistic young man with his sights set on becoming the most incredible Mormon the world has ever seen, and Elder Cunningham is quite the opposite as a social outcast with a wandering imagination but who has a heart of gold and just as much enthusiasm as his peer.
Early into the show, the songs pave the way for the theme of what lies ahead. ‘Two By Two’ pairs off the Mormons back in Salt Lake City and allows them to list stereotypes for all the places they are being sent to, all the while backed with an infectious tune and perfectly timed, snappy choreography. The expected “shock factor” from the show’s creators comes soon after Price and Cunningham arrive in Uganda, met by the local villager’s swear-ridden rendition of ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ as they find out the title means something quite opposite to “no worries for the rest of your days” after they have been singing along with the Africans. This doesn’t stop the villagers finishing the number telling God where to “stick it” after they have already ironically agreed how horrible the content of their song is.
Every single song in the The Book of Mormon has an element of parody around it, mocking other musical styles with the far-fetched stories and expectations of the Mormon faith. The tunes are exceptionally good with side splitting lyrics and faultless choreography; no argument can be made against the level of talent in this show. Stand out numbers are ‘Turn It Off’ with an unexpected tap routine, and ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ for some surprise cameos and the funniest lead into the song.
The comedic performances of the full cast cement the reputation this show has. Jacob Yarlett’s professional debut as Elder Cunningham was non-stop hilarity and Elder McKinley (played by Will Hawksworth) was equally as hysterical as the “closet” Mormon in the Ugandan HQ. Both actors put everything into their roles, giving the characters nuances that really made their comedy to stand out.
The Book of Mormon touring production has exactly the same content and quality as its London counterpart. although not for the easily offended, it is a musical that anybody with a wicked sense of humour will enjoy; even those who “don’t like” musical theatre. The show is wonderfully clever with the satire and jokes, the musical numbers are fantastic, and the performances from the entire cast allow Mormon to be not only the funniest, but one of the best musicals out there.