Hello Brisbane! The Book of Mormon musical ding-donged its way into our hearts and funny-bones at QPAC for the Queensland premiere of the highly-acclaimed and anticipated Broadway sensation. After an almost sold-out season prior to previews, Brisbane has announced a limited return season in the Sunshine State in January 2020.
The city came out to celebrate the opening night of the hilarious and unorthodox tale of Mormon Missionaries as they attempt to share their faith’s teachings to the people of war-torn, poverty-stricken Uganda, Africa.
From the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone along with Avenue Q and Frozen’s Bobby Lopez surges a re-birth of the musical comedy like never seen before. The story follows a satirical look at the realities of a young Mormon man’s journey on his two year mission to baptise people into the Mormon church worldwide.
The Australian production of this 9-time Tony Award-winning hit is phenomenal. This show encompasses all a musical needs: from distinct and quirky animated characters to giggling at astonishing innuendos and show-stopping musical numbers that will keep you itching for another taste of this joy feast.
One of the two lead characters, Elder Price is portrayed by star performer Blake Bowden. He soars with passion and oozes with undeniable talent. The natural born actor demonstrates perfectly timed hilarity throughout the show. His relationship with his mission companion, Elder Cunningham keeps the audience in stitches. At first he doesn’t think too highly of him and shows a glimpse of that in the musical number ‘You and Me (but mostly me). He sees him as a follower and not an equal partner. Blake belts his heart out and is wonderfully obnoxious during the song.
Blake sings his anthem ‘I believe’ with so much power in his voice following a point when he is down about not baptising anyone in the village. Blake illustrates his versatility by realising how much of a perfectionist he is and turns it around for the sake of the mission. The complex friendship with Elder Cunningham evolves into a beautiful bond between two completely different ‘brothers’ who understand each other’s point of view by the end of the production.
Elder Cunningham is played by the incomparable and hilarious, Nyk Bielak. Hailing from Canada and making his Broadway Debut in this show he was ready to take on Australian audiences. The minute he arrived on stage in the first number ‘Hello’ as he butchers the approved dialogue, you knew he would keep you laughing.
It is quickly revealed to the audience that his new mission companion, Elder Price would be his first real friend. Nyk demonstrates his character’s desire for friendship through his many coping mechanisms. One is never leaving Elder Price’s side, reminding him that is is one of the rules of being a Mormon Missionary. He also copes by singing Price the lullaby his Mother sang to him growing up ‘I am here for you.’
Nyk is an incredible performer and this is especially illustrated in the production number ‘Man up’ which closes Act 1. He realises he has to be brave and become a leader to share the teachings of the Church as Elder Price decides to leave. Nabulungi, which he always calls funny names like Neutrogena or Nicki Minaj, which gets a roar of laughter every time, reveals to him that she wants to learn more about ‘The Book of Mormon’. At this moment he feels very special and wanted. This number showcases Elder Cunningham’s silliness and powerful voice.
Cunningham’s main flaw is continually ‘making things up’ with his active imagination when he doesn’t know what to say. This gets him into to strive later down the track with the African people through the song, ‘Making things up again.’ In this comedic number he creates delusional inaccurate stories about the Mormon religion to help the Ugandan people to relate and stay interested.
Neutrogena, I mean Nabulungi is portrayed by the talented Tigist Strode. She plays the daughter of one of the village men, Mafala, played by the marvellous Tyson Jennette. Her character is sick and tired of living in a place where she has to hide because of the nature of her war-torn country. Tigist wonderfully embodies this optimistic character that has a fun relationship with Elder Cunningham as she believes he can save their village and take them to the birthplace of Mormons, Salt Lake City.
Tigist is a beautiful performer especially during her song ‘sal tlay ka siti’ as she dreams of a better life for herself and her father, her voice is absolutely stunning. Nabulungi’s connection with Elder Cunningham grows when she finally is baptised into Mormon culture in the inadvertently sensual and amusing musical number between the two, ‘Baptise me.’
Elder Mckinley is the fabulously sassy missionary leader of their district in Uganda and played by the incredible Joel Granger. Joel shines and shows off his comedic side in the missionary led song and dance number, ‘Turn it off.’ When they are trying to turn off their indecent feelings of any kind, it turns into this sarcastic exhibition of joy with of course a Casey Nicolaw tap number in the middle, with tacky but magnificent pink vests to complete the song. The way he looks at Blake’s character at one point during this scene is hilarious as they are close to kissing and he overall steals the show with his on point facial expressions.
The Ensemble company members in this production are out of this world hard-working souls. All of the larger than life song and dance numbers come alive through their dedication to their craft. The opening number and closing number are prime examples of this. They had me at ‘Hello’, it is the first and last song and introduces and concludes the show with such underlying meaning, demonstrating how the characters evolve from beginning to end.
The initial ‘Hello’ is an insightful way to introduce the world of Mormon missionaries as they practice door-knocking to entice people to join the Mormon faith. It is a hilarious sequence and you learn a lot about each ensemble member and you see the animation of each character.
As the production closes you get to see how the Ugandan people have become much happier as they introduce themselves in the same way, but with their own quirks related to their culture. They also have converted to a new religious text, The Book of Arnold, which is Cunningham’s first name; it is a fantastic technique to show the juxtaposition, but more importantly the similarities of the two groups of people. The audience also sees what Price and Cunningham have learned throughout the course of their mission.
The talented ensemble were sensational as they additionally brought to life the magic that is Hasa Diga Eebowai. This scene is particularly comical when Mafala explains what the African word means. They all dance around and put their middle fingers in the air and highlight their gorgeous singing voices in this carefree moment, which the Mormons find very shameful to begin with.
Casey Nicolaw choreographed this amazing production and the dance numbers were a major part of the hilarity of the show. Songs like ‘Two by two’ and ‘Turn it off’ showcased the exaggerated over-the-top comedy just created by movement, especially the high-elbows in ‘Two by two.’
In today’s world everyone needs a good laugh, it’s the best medicine. So go and get your latest dose of happiness with The Book of Mormon at QPAC and the return season in January 2020.
Get your tickets to this hilarious controversial musical comedy before it closes 31 May at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC. Click HERE to book your seat to Brisbane’s return season from 3 January 2020!
All photos – Supplied