The Book of Mormon converts Melbourne into believers with five-star premiere
Following sell-out success and almost universal acclaim with runs on Broadway and London's West End – one of the most successful new musicals of the 21st century has finally made its way to Melbourne in its Australian premiere. But can The Book of Mormon live up to the immense hype that surrounded it in the lead-up? With one hand on the bible, the answer is a resounding and side-splitting yes.
As the prologue began, it was immediately clear that The Book of Mormon was coming straight out of the gate as a well-oiled machine. The pace was set fast from the get-go, letting the audience know they were in for a no-holds-barred onslaught of wicked humour, scathing musical satire, and just enough sentimentality to tug on the heartstrings.
The aptly titled Hello introduced the Mormons – characterised as squeaky clean, buttoned-up beacons of relentless optimism. While Ryan Bondy and A.J. Holmes shine as the male leads of Eldar Price and Eldar Cunningham, immense props must go to the supporting ensemble too. The vocal performances on display are world-class, marking a consistent highlight throughout.
By the time things reach the show-stopping You And Me (But Mostly Me) Bondy's Eldar Price stakes his claim as a surprisingly lovable egomaniac, while Holmes' Eldar Cunningham is instantly magnetic as his awkward, endearing and downright hilarious counterpart. The pair work brilliantly together, as their mismatched dynamic constantly sends laughter all the way up to rattle the Princess Theatre's roof.
Both are given their time in the spotlight, with Holmes' take on Man Up proving the funniest moment of the night – of which there are countless. Brimming with all the camp machismo of the greatest '80s training montage you've ever seen, it illustrates how effortlessly Holmes can ham it up to fantastic results.
Lyrically, the envelope of good taste is pushed a little further out as each number goes by. By the time you get to songs detailing frog-fucking, you barely flinch. Yes, this is a play filled with crass jokes and enough swears to make a pirate blush – but it's also explicitly clever in the way it is delivered and written.
As you'd expect from the twisted minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (Southpark) alongside Robert Lopez (Avenue Q), there's more that can be mined from what at first glance may seem like outrageous writing for the sake of causing outrage. This isn't that kind of musical, and while never overstating itself often provides moments for deeper thought. Religious imperialism, the conflict of faith and often the nature of belief itself are all touched on – but never consume the musical's focus.
One of the greatest things about The Book of Mormon is the way it simultaneously approaches musical theatre with a deep love and respect for its traditions and tropes, while also ripping up the rulebook entirely. The result is something so idiosyncratic that it could bring even the most devout hater of the genre into a born-again fan.
Kicklines appear within songs about oppressing sexual thoughts that don't exactly gel with Mormon values, while dynamic Bob Fosse-inspired choreography and mesmerising tap dancing come to the fore when you least expect it. Somehow, this collision all works exceptionally well – akin to a depraved interpretation of Rodgers & Hammerstein that's been sent out on a bender and dragged back onto the stage.
There are almost too many highlights to list in what's bound to amount in a hugely successful Melbourne run for The Book of Mormon. The sets are phenomenal; the performances throughout are spot-on. Zahra Newman is perfect as Nabulungi, her stunning interpretations of Sal Tlay Ka Siti and Baptise Me offering both ends of her wide-ranging talents. Gorgeous vocals bolstered with great comedic timing make her an exceptional choice for this role.
Spooky Mormon Hell Dream highlights our laughably absurd perception of hell – complete with Nazis wielding pitchforks. I Am Africa holds nothing back while ripping shreds off white privilege and half-arsed altruism; All American Prophet showcases the cast in an outstanding ensemble performance and Hasa Diga Eebowai is loaded with one of the funniest lyrical twists in the entire show.
There's a reason why this musical has taken over the world. It's unlike anything else in its field and is significantly better off because of it. Judging by the standing ovation and deafening applause that closed out The Book of Mormon's Australian premiere, it's safe to say one thing – consider this city completely and utterly converted.
By James Di Fabrizio