Holy moly: Book of Mormon proves sinfully good in preview ahead of Sunderland Empire dates

I’d swear on the bible that I’ve never laughed so much at a musical as I did at The Book of Mormon.

By Katy.Wheeler
Sunday, 21 July, 2019, 11:45
The Book of Mormon tour is heading to Sunderland.

In the current climate of Generation Snowflake, this is a show which laughs in the face of political correctness and is only non-discriminatory in the fact that it ‘offends’ everyone, no matter what your religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. But it’s testament to the quality of the writing, that you leave laughing at yourself rather than clutching your pearls in disgust.

It’s the kind of cleverly cutting, sardonic humour you’d expect from the pen of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of South Park fame, who teamed up with Robert Lopez, who co-created the gloriously uninhibited songs of Avenue Q, for this Broadway smash.

After winning shelf-fulls of Tony and Olivier Awards, this blockbuster of biblical proportions will make its North East debut at Sunderland Empire this August and I was invited to preview the show during its run at Manchester’s Palace Theatre.

The comedy musical is penned by the same writers behind South Park

It’s a show that’s oft been recommended by friends, but this was my Book of Mormon baptism of fire. From what I’d been told, I expected to be shocked, but if it wasn’t so God damn funny I’d be appalled at what I was laughing out loud about.

On a muggy Manchester night we were quickly transported to Mid-West America to meet the Mormons. As opening numbers go, Hello! has got to be up there with the best of them as we are introduced to various Mormon missionaries as they pop up around the stage ringing doorbells, religious literature in hand, while donning starched white shirts, perfectly-preened side partings and an overzealous smile.

Each of the elders is given a location on far flung corners of the globe to spread the Mormon message, which they gleefully accept. Our two hapless heroes of the piece, however, draw the short straw with a posting to Uganda.

Preppy Elder Price, with his fixed Colgate grin, (played by Kevin Clay) is an unlikely pairing with the lovingly crumpled Elder Cunningham (Connor Peirson) but together they are theatre gold, especially in numbers such as the gloriously narcissistic You and Me (But Mostly Me).

The company of Book of Mormon. Production shots by Paul Coltas.

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From the seemingly shimmering Salt Lake City they are dumped on the dusty streets of Uganda where their hopes of conversions and baptisms are soon dashed. You can almost smell the mud-covered lean-to huts and swat the flies from buzzing around your head as we meet the local residents of their posting, who are less than enthusiastic about having their doorbells (if they had them) rang by smiling missionaries.

They have bigger issues to deal with, like AIDS and malaria and a blood-thirsty warlord General, played with great presence by Thomas Vernal. They don’t sound like the subject matters of your average musical, but you can’t help but laugh about flies biting eyeballs in witty numbers such as Sal Tlay Ka Siti – a dark parody on Hakuna Matata in which they give the middle finger to God. This is certainly not a night out at My Fair Lady.

Nicole-Lily Baisden as Nabulungi, an African name Elder Cunningham can never quite get his tongue round, calling her everything from Neutrogena to Jon Bon Jovi, is great as the gutsy local who’s eager to learn.

All does not go to plan for our roving Mormons, but fortunately bad thoughts can just be switched off, just like they do with sexual urges and feelings of guilt in the brilliantly funny Turn It Off track. On paper it may sound like mockery, but because the Mormons poke fun at themselves, it becomes an affectionate humour which makes you warm to the elders. This is genius comedy writing.

Jae Cleopatra Isaac, Kevin Clay and Conner Peirson in The Book of Mormon.

If that’s not quite weird enough for you, you’ll revel in track Spooky Mormon Hell Dream in which Hitler, Genghis Khan and even OJ Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran, appear in Elder Price’s nightmare about the afterlife. It’s brilliantly bonkers stuff, but, somehow, it works and ultimately the musical celebrates the power of love and acceptance.

You’ll gasp, you’ll laugh, but just make sure to leave your inhibitions at the door.

*Book of Mormon is at Sunderland Empire from August 28 to September 14. Tickets here.

Kevin Clay and Thomas Vernal as Elder Price and The General