Review: The Book of Mormon is more than South Park's greatest hits

Aug 26 2016, 12:13 am

I hate Broadway musicals. I hate the cheesy acting, the predictable plot lines, the spoon-feeding of the playwright’s message to an audience.

I wear my disdain for this branch of theatre on my sleeve. I always make an attempt to voice my frustrations about what capitalism has done to theatre, how big-budget shows have only made it more difficult for braver voices to be heard. An “edgy” review would downplay the artistic merit of a production that has garnered so much praise, but I honestly can’t bring myself to do it.

Why the hell did I love The Book of Mormon so much?

Mostly, it’s because Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s gift for satire has only grown through their years of making South Park. As a result, I would argue that their experiment with live theatre has ended up becoming the best vehicle for the pair’s writing to date.


Image: Joan Marcus

The Book of Mormon focuses on two bright-eyed young men on their first mission with the Church of Latter Day Saints. The structure of the show is classic: the perfect Mormon student is paired with the goofy side-kick and sent to a world that neither of them could have prepared for. Using this old trope to mock itself is only part of the tale’s comedic currency. The musical’s story is also shaped by the dark humour found through pain, blind faith and endless white privilege.

The performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was shockingly fresh and energetic, especially given that the show has been produced nearly non-stop since opening in 2011. The ensemble brought an incredible amount of energy to the production that held its power right up to the last seconds of the encore.

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The entire cast was phenomenal but I would be remiss if I didn’t give some love to Canadian actor Ryan Bondy, who meshed incredible vocal feats, tight choreography, and a complicated realness to a character as seemingly one-sided as Elder Price.

Outstanding performance credit is also due to Candace Quarrels as Nabulungi. She gifted the audience with a vocal and emotional range that left the crowd both laughing hysterically and stunned silent, completely under her control.

Image: Joan Marcus

Image: Joan Marcus

If you’re at all familiar with their work, it’s easy to see Parker and Stone’s finger prints all over this production. As you’d expect, all of the music, dialogue, and imagery were twisted and skewered into a beautiful heap of self-awareness. The piling on of third-world country horrors alongside white people’s inability to see past their own superiority complex was also well and alive.

As someone who has followed their work closely, I can tell you that The Book of Mormon is more pointed and toothy than anything else Parker and Stone have made. But the success of this satire isn’t the writing, it’s the medium.

The use of living, breathing bodies created violent and scary moments that would normally have landed as a joke on South Park, and wiped the grins off every audience member. Sitting in total silence in the aftermath of those moments, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what the creators had been working towards all along.

The Book of Mormon (Vancouver tour)

When: August 23 – September 4

Where: Queen Elizabeth Theatre