Book of Mormon

Musicals aren’t what they used to be – thank Heavenly Father! That’s why you find me here to see my first ever musical on press night for Manchester’s hottest show, mixing with the glitterati on the red carpet for The Book of Mormon.

Well, to tell the truth, it’s me, some very attractive ladies and gents – obviously celebrities but complete unknowns to me – plus that one guy from The Last Leg and mayor Andy Burnham, all standing on a rainy pavement outside the Palace Theatre. I feel special nonetheless.

I’ve wanted to see The Book of Mormon since it was released in 2011 and as a fan of South Park (and Team America, Orgazmo, Baseketball and even Cannibal the Musical), I am prepared to cut it a lot of slack even if it turns out – despite the mountain of glowing reviews, awards and accolades it’s received – to be sub-par.

But Mormon doesn’t disappoint and from the off, it’s sardonic, tongue-in-cheek and perfectly ridiculous. South Park co-creator and The Book of Mormon co-writer Trey Parker’s recorded voice-over for the intro bizarrely brings a little lip-synced Hollywood gloss from the off, and the fantastic sets also add depth to every scene.

The opening song is a multi-layered vocal introduction which shows how far Parker’s songwriting has come, combining eight vocal lines together in a way that is not only comedically funny but very tuneful and musically witty.

Parker has a solid grasp of show-tune songwriting and uses classic and clichéd devices alike with abandon, all feeding in to the overall feel of the show as something utterly parodic and satirical.

While a more classically trained or traditionally-minded writer may have avoided one or two moments where the music gets a little bit muddled or a tad predictable, the sheer inventiveness and humour of the score could only be achieved by a relative outsider.

Amongst the excellent songs are a few standouts: ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ is a pastiche of The Lion King’s ‘Hakuna Matata’ and the perfect example of the subversive humour of Parker and co-creator Matt Stone. Does ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ mean “no worries for the rest of your days”? I can tell you, it does not.

‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ is a carnival of sinister choreographed ridiculousness and amazing songwriting and one of the best things I have ever seen on a stage. ‘Joseph Smith, American Moses’ calls back a plethora of details scattered throughout the show to a raucous, farcical, genuinely laugh-out-loud romp which is everything cringeworthy comedy should be.

Huge credit to the cast, who pull off a demanding performance with panache – and also to the band who play flawlessly across a range of styles, but for me, the real stars are the songwriting and the amazing attention to detail in every part of the show, skills one assumes were honed over decades producing the visual intricacies and Easter eggs of South Park.

And while The Book of Mormon is more mature and palatable than South Park, if you are thinking of attending despite misgivings about political incorrectness, I might suggest a re-think, as there are no punches pulled, stereotypes aplenty and no woke sensibilities spared. Despite the high representation of ethnic minority actors in the cast (which has traditionally been a major issue for theatre), there is only one significant female character and many other crassly insensitive subplots and depictions.

However, if you can see past all that to the underlying decency and liberal outlook, Mormon is not short on compassion or on message, despite the plot being fairly straightforward and the characters straight from central casting.

That said, though, these simple foundations for Mormon are like steak – it’s not the fine dining and tug-on-the-heartstrings of a musical movie like Moulin Rouge but you can’t go wrong with steak, and if you get everything just right, with all the flourishes, bells and whistles, like The Book of Mormon does, it’s hugely satisfying and nigh on impossible to beat.

The Book of Mormon: Tickets

Chris Oliver

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.