The Book of Mormon at the Sunderland Empire - a hilarious and joyously tasteless musical
Let us start by saying that The Book of Mormon is about as hilarious a night at the theatre that could reasonably be expected – apart from those of an overly sensitive disposition. Such people have been warned.
The premise is that a committed missionary, Elder Kevin Price (Robert Colvin), prays hard to be sent to Florida to knock on doors and attempt to convert people as per traditional Mormon methods.
However, he and the hapless and friendless Elder Arnold Cunningham (Conner Pierson, the only real American among the cast), a spectacular liar, are sent to Uganda where they are robbed upon arrival and “treated” to a repeated Ugandan phrase which is translated as, well, something they don’t want to hear.
Suffice to say the missionaries don’t have an easy time, although they become friendly with local girl Nabulungi, played by the excellent Aviva Tulley who manages to convey a surprising amount of pathos amid all the silliness.
The musical is the creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, also known for South Park and Team America: World Police, with Oscar winner Robert Lopez whose work includes Avenue Q and Frozen.
It has been around since 2011 and has globally become one of the most financially successful musicals of all time. It seems unlikely that anyone buying a ticket won’t know what they’re getting into.
Nevertheless, we are obliged to reiterate that there is much potential to offend. It also touches on some searching questions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its claims.
Over the years the church has, wisely, said very little about the show, although after performances at the Empire a number of their following have been outside politely leafleting audiences as they leave.
Perhaps they recognise that no one has a right to not be offended. For those who are not offended – it’s a hoot.
A few tweaks have been made to the show since it last came to Sunderland in 2019.
It entertains, obviously, but occasionally gives the audience something to think about too. Amid the hilarity and controversy, the musical accomplishment of the show is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be.
Highlights include the opening number Hello (expunge Lionel Richie from your thoughts), Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Salt Lake City) and that number whose title we won’t publish, even in Ugandan.
Audiences find themselves laughing at lines which, heard in isolation, would make you wonder how anyone could possibly find funny. We’re talking about lines which we couldn’t possibly print in this newspaper. Indeed, we wouldn’t lightly repeat them in a pub.
You will understand when, for example, you hear a tastelessly amusing running gag about maggots.
Topics such as famine, disease, female genital mutilation and civil war do not at first appear to be fertile ground for comedy; but context is everything and you will know what we mean if you go and see it.
The Book of Mormon runs at the Sunderland Empire Theatre until Saturday, October 29. Bookings can be made online.