Ding-dong, the good book has arrived in Adelaide, and for those not already indoctrinated by trips interstate or overseas to see the nine-time Tony Award-winning musical, musical theatre will never be the same again after seeing this show.
On the Thanksgiving of 1997, Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman met the famine stricken Ethiopian Starvin’ Marvin for the first time on South Park, the cartoon by 'The Book Of Mormon' ('BOM') creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
It was the Comedy Central show’s debut season, and it redefined what an animated show could say and what themes it could tackle, leading the way for similarly provocative shows like 'Bojack Horseman', 'Family Guy' and 'American Dad', 'Bob’s Burgers' and many more.
'The Book Of Mormon' is to musicals what 'South Park' was to animated television. As soon as the Mormon missionaries Elder Price (Blake Bowden) and Elder Cunningham (Nyk Bielak) touched down in Uganda, I was transported back to those days in the mid-'90s sitting in front of the television. What did they say? Can they say that? Ah, I see why they are saying that.
As with 'South Park', 'BOM' is a fearless, daring and incisive satire that, through humour and song, confronts taboos that few others can, such as religious paternalism, hypocrisy and repression, female circumcision, Third World poverty and more.
It’s a show that delicately tap dances along the line without ever crossing it, as it alternates between shock humour and show tunes. To pull it off requires an ensemble cast that possess precisely-timed comedic chops, as well as the triple threat talents of acting, singing and dancing that are necessary in any Broadway production.
The hybrid Australian-American cast for the Adelaide 'BOM' is elite. Blake Bowden, with his gleaming shark’s teeth smile is fantastic as the spiritual narcissist Elder Price, while the rotund Canadian-born Nyk Bielak gyrates his expansive belly and milks every laugh as the compulsive liar, Elder Cunningham.
Newcomer Tigist Strode, a recent graduate from the Victorian College of the Arts who made her professional debut in the ensemble of the Melbourne production of the show, is a star as the desperately devout Nabulungi.
Her song, 'Sal Tlay Ka Siti' is a crucial island of sombreness in the sea of comedy. While 'BOM' is mostly devoted to mocking religion, this song explores how people often come to faith when they are so vulnerable and devoid of answers that they feel there is nowhere left to turn; it’s a song upon which the whole story depends, and she nails it.
Another highlight is Joel Granger’s camp repressed queer Mormon, Elder McKinley, who dazzles on 'Turn It Off' early in Act One and turns it on at every opportunity for the remainder of the show.
'BOM' is a show that is accessible to anyone who isn’t easily offended; it melds together crude humour with world-class singing and choreography and, beneath all that, a sophisticated critique of organised religion.
'The Book Of Mormon' has been the hottest ticket in town all year, so join the lottery if you can, and if that fails, maybe pray to the all-American prophet Joseph Smith.
'The Book Of Mormon' plays Adelaide Festival Centre until 18 August.