Review by Max D’Ambrosio
Broadway Across Canada’s mounting of The Book of Mormon is full of blistering satire and hilariously cloying cheer. It also makes many other flamboyant musical productions look positively understated by comparison.
The atmosphere is unapologetically cheesy, the writing constantly on-the-nose. Every costume, prop, and piece of lavish scenery is used optimally, whether for dramatic effect or slapstick. Songs are primarily built around variations on the same basic gags, but none of the jokes are stretched too thinly – the entire cast’s comedic timing is very tight. Their performances come across as a particularly ingenious application of the grand old tradition of characters singing their feelings.
As Kevin Price (Ryan Bondy) and Arnold Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand) set out on their mission to Uganda for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we are treated to a magical journey across a decidedly non-magical world. Yet there’s no shortage of whimsy and absurdity, when the audience looks at the world through these enthusiastic young Mormons’ eyes. Their idealism’s clash with the reality of their new surroundings leads to a truly epic adventure, full of thoughtful twists and turns.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s creative voices can be strongly felt, yet they do not overpower the unique angle of this story, created with songwriter Robert Lopez. It stands on its own, without explicit references to, or reliance on, their other work. Their particular brand of satire is sometimes dismissed as mere crassness, when in reality, it can be a powerful tool for gaining greater understanding of a subject – besides being amazingly entertaining. In this case, all kinds of thorny issues are explored, ranging from racial bigotry to cultural transmission, and from the role of faith in individual lives to its effect across entire communities.
Few shows can claim the distinctions of being genuinely insightful, or of triggering gales of laughter through sheer silliness, ostentatiousness, and vulgarity. The Book of Mormon does it all, often in the exact same instant.