Culture Editor Jeevan Farthing reviews the award-winning musical The Book of Mormon as it makes its rescheduled debut in Glasgow.
“Jesus lived here, in the USA”, supposedly. It’s the kind of writing that should be so ridiculous, so satirical, as to bear little resemblance to reality. But what The Book of Mormon does so well is make us, among cackles and giggles, question and engage critically with so much – charity, race, religion are only the start.
The actual Book of Mormon is a founding text of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. What Robert Lopez, and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, do with their musical is tear the text apart, manifesting in a group of elders going on a journey from America to, at least in their eyes, baptise some Ugandans. On Thursday 10 November it was Glasgow’s turn to witness the Nine-times Tony Award Winner and four-times Olivier Award Winner – in all its sharp, slapstick glory.
While the set is not especially extravagant (a notable exception being the sheer intensity of the colour red used to depict Lucifer), the transitions are so rapid and high-tech as to appear seamless. A lot of thought has gone into the costumes and accessories – one of the Ugandans wears a vest with Che Guevera printed on it (some later digging revealed that his son actually visited the country quite recently); another wears shorts bearing the US flag. While it’s hard to remember any photos of Charles Taylor boasting sunglasses, it just makes sense for a warlord to have some. The highlight is probably the proud Mormon families waving their children off at the airport: it’s baggy and ill-fitting shirts galore, either far too plain or far too stripy, and emphasising that pretty much everyone who has tried to convert you in the street has been badly dressed (you know it’s true). You cannot fault the rest of the staging – from the stunning African rugs to the meticulously ramshackle Ugandan slums – while the intense and camp choreography never fails to endear.
Elder Price (Robert Colvin) and Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) – our two protagonists – are oozing with talent, while Pierson’s lack of prior experience makes his success in such a versatile and demanding role all the more impressive. The burning questions of the plot centre around these two – is Elder Price too perfectly reasonable (and perhaps too good looking) for a Latter Day Saint? And is Elder Cunningham too silly and goofy to not let the whole mission collapse into chaos? An honourable mention must go to Anna Tulley – playing the simultaneously intelligent and naive Nabulungi (one motif is Cunningham misconstruing her name; “Nicola Sturgeon” obviously won the most applause). Her solo is the most mesmerising moment of the whole musical – and for someone so young to comfortably descant over the entire chorus is just formidable.
While The Book of Mormon is not sensitive in its social commentary, it is multi-faceted enough to make you think. Does it criticise, or tacitly endorse, white saviourism (think: Stacey Dooley and Comic Relief)? Is it condemning or perpetuating misinformation about how AIDS spreads? Is it racist in its actualisation of an anti-racist message? Is it even critical of what The Church of Latter Day Saints stands for (you’d hopefully agree that lying is worse than being gay)? That’s all for you, the audience, to decide.
The Book of Mormon is in Glasgow until 26 November.