In 2011 the Book of Mormon took theatreland by storm with its irresistible appeal of irreverence, giving a woke sort of story some very catchy songs, raucous sweary language and genuine humour.
Society has changed immeasurably over that decade and while the audience at Wales Millennium Centre lapped it up, some laughed like drains, and rose to their feet at the end, it now really dated, bordering on the racist and sexist.
I Iaughed a fair bit but also sat there troubled by men dressed as women (there are not enough white women in the cast to play well, white women), the black cast members having to tell stereotypical jokes about stupid Africans believing shagging frogs and sodomising babies cures HIV, or are either gun totting thugs intent on cutting off women’s clitorises or helpless victims.
For all the ridicule of Mormons which, frankly, could have been applied to most religions and I am still waiting for the sequel The Koran on Ice, the religious group comes out of it extremely well. For all the muck thrown at the origins of the church, the ringing doorbells and being over happy and clean cut, they remain the people who want to do good, and, in the form of an unlikely preacher Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) who applies contemporary allegories to the Christian message, does convert the villagers. Even the selfish but seemingly perfect Elder Price (Robert Colvin) sees the error of his ways.
Conner Peirson (right)
Robert Colvin and Thomas Vernal
But really the story that was created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park, and Robert Lopez, who wrote Avenue Q, relies on easy humour, with far too much reliance on camp gay boy dancing routines and fantasy sequences that similarly try to point out the illogicality, self-repression, hypocrisy, and plain daftness of religion. They aren’t particularly shocking or offensive to believers of any faith really but a convenient vehicle for on stage frivolity.
The characterisation is also safe stuff. Fat, unconfident boy gets the girl who, although the brightest girl in the village Nabulungi (Aviva Tulley) turns out to be the fool and must be put straight by another village woman. Clean cut boy must have his comeuppance but see the light. What all the repressed homosexual Mormon missionaries do isn’t clear apart from put on another song and dance sequence as the show ends with converted Ugandans ringing doorbells.
Don’t let me rain on your parade. The audience loved it. I just didn’t. I expected to be blown away with an intelligent as well as funny and entertaining show. I just wasn’t.
The show that Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker directed races along on well-greased tracks, but its time has passed. We’ve had two terms of a black American president and now Democrats back in White House and plus ca change. Covid has replaced HIV as the big health issue for African countries. Gender/sex identity not gay rights is the cause celebre (thus the oddness having men playing women – imagine white actors playing black characters and I do hope all the actors playing homosexual characters were gay and the same for heterosexuals!). Global warming?
Ah, what does it matter, everyone likes dancing boys, (and like Mormon missionaries there is a seemingly endless supply of them), and the establishment does nothing better than making money even by ridiculing itself? Keep those doorbells ringing and tickets sales soaring.
In the musical, the Ugandan villagers use Facebook to find their odd “cures” for HIV. In a country where the established Cristian church is the main cause of repression for LGBT people, I certainly hope they don’t also go online and search for more information about gay Mormon boys or they will get another interesting take on the church.
Images: Johan Persson
Until October 30.