Two Mormon missionaries are sent to Africa in this acclaimed comedy musical from the Creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Created with the composer and lyricist Robert Lopez (‘Avenue Q’), The Book of Mormon is a tongue-in-cheek, bad-taste comedy that treads a fine line in offensive humour. It picked up nine Tony Awards on Broadway before arriving in the West End in 2013.
Elder Kevin Price is a dedicated follower of the Mormon faith, well-schooled in the religion’s door-knocking (‘Hello), who hopes to be sent to Florida to complete his mission for the Church of the Latter-day Saints. However, paired with the hapless, insecure slacker Elder Arnold Cunningham, he finds himself ordered to Uganda to convert new followers. Dutifully, Elder Price aims to make the best of the situation. The world has other ideas.
On arrival, the pair are robbed by General Butt-Fucking Naked’s soldiers, a local warlord who terrorises locals and dictates mass genital mutilations at random. Needless to say, the Mormons haven’t had much success and Elder Price quickly grows disillusioned. The villagers have long been so and they have a song for that: ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai.’ It means, ‘Fuck You, God.’
However, Elder Cunningham’s fantastical, milk-and-honey promises – mostly made-up on the spot and twisting Mormonism with pop culture and science fiction – start winning them round. To win conversions, however, the Mormons have to take on the general himself and Price, spotting an opportunity, tries to convert him to the church – only to wind up in the hospital wing with a holy book in an unholy place.
When the villagers come to enact their understanding of Mormonism for the head of the mission, their version of its founding myth is riddled with errors and distortions – mistakes that see the mission wound up. What Elder Price realises, however, is that the spirit of the church has cut through in Elder Cunningham’s efforts, even if its exact details haven’t. For the villagers, however, Mormonism is a metaphor, not a literal truth – and Arnold Cunningham is the only Latter-Day Saint they need.
Cynical and spoofish throughout, not to mention wilfully outrageous, The Book of Mormon pokes as much fun at the musical theatre form and its feelgood factor as it does at the Mormon faith itself. That, arguably, is what has made it such a success: it applies its satire even-handedly and affectionately. No-one escapes ridicule.