It’s politically incorrect, blasphemous, scandalous and shocking and it’s one of the most successful musicals of all time
Forgive me Joseph Smith, for I have sinned.
And my crimes against this “blonde-haired, blue-eyed, all-American prophet” who founded Mormonism? Deceiving a bunch of his followers and leading at least one astray.
The deception played out over several months in my teens when my family briefly rented a house within Bible-bashing distance of the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Every Saturday morning, without fail, young male missionaries brandishing their good books and styled in their requisite short-sleeved, buttonup white shirt, plain tie and rectangular nametag would beat a path to our front door.
So every Saturday morning, without fail, my siblings and I would yelp a warning, crash madly around the house and hide behind furniture, pretending we weren’t home. Subtle we most definitely were not, loudly shushing each other, twitching the curtains to see if they’d gone and occasionally yelling “rack off” from behind the safety of a double-deadbolted door.
But points for persistence, those missionaries punched our doorbell like in-form boxers and only retreated after feeding leaflets and platitudes under the door.
A year or so later, I befriended a young Mormon teenager and was fascinated to learn her church’s views on drinking tea and coffee (no), chugging cheap wine (definitely no), wearing tank tops (again, no) and Sunday lunches (nope – it’s a day of fasting).
So when she broke bad – as all 16-year-olds are wont to do, regardless of religion – I was her chief enabler; throwing open my wardrobe of strapless dresses and slinky tops, encouraging her underage drinking, then plying her with strong coffee and greasy Sunday breakfasts to stave off hangovers.
It’s fair to say I mocked Mormonism and responded to news it would be parodied on stage with a particular sense of glee. I grew up watching the adult-themed animated series South Park so anything with the seditious touch of creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker piques my interest.
Add a collaboration with Robert Lopez – the song master behind both satirical puppet show Avenue Q and, bizarrely, Disney’s Frozen – and you have my attention.
Like many, I heard buzz surrounding The Book of Mormon’s Broadway debut in 2011, buzz that has since reached a near-deafening volume.
It’s one of the most successful musicals of all time – $500 million and climbing – and with a trophy cabinet filled with Tony, Grammy, Olivier and even Helpmann awards. But the overwhelming sentiment, whispered in hushed tones among polite company, was how very naughty the stage musical about two Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to convert villagers is.
How very politically incorrect, blasphemous, scandalous and shocking.
Having seen the show for the first time this week, I can also report it is very, very funny: clever funny, cheeky funny, sweet funny and laugh-out-loud funny.
Stone, Parker and Lopez take taboo themes like AIDS, female genital mutilation, closeted homosexuality, religious abuse and even child rape and play them for laughs.
It all sounds decidedly off-colour but full confession, I sat there in Sydney’s Lyric Theatre, laughing uproariously at subversive lyrics, whipsmart dialogue, immensely likeable characters and a cast that delivered a near-flawless performance with bang-on comic timing.
You need only look at the musical’s song titles to know you’re in for a belly laugh: You and Me (But Mostly Me), Spooky Mormon Hell Dream and Hasa Diga Eebowai (run that one through Google Translate).
Would I recommend The Book of Mormon to my Jersey Boys-loving, churchgoing parents in their 60s? For sure! I think some parts may scandalise my mum but with a little advance warning, I’ve no doubt they’d both enjoy a right laugh.
Would I let my 16-year-old son see it? Absofreakin-lutely! I’ve already pencilled him in as my opening night date and am shopping for a white, short-sleeved button up for him to wear.
I may just need to steel myself for an awkward conversation about frog-related bestiality later.
The Book Of Mormon, Lyric Theatre, QPAC, from March 16, 2019. Tickets on sale now, qpac.com.au.
You need only look at the musical’s song titles to know you’re in for a belly laugh.