Recently, I went to watch the matinée performance of the smash-hit musical ‘The Book of Mormon’ with my wife Joanna in the West End. I had wanted to see it for quite a while now, so as soon as I saw that there was going to be a performance captioned by STAGETEXT I booked our tickets straightaway. This musical has won 9 Tony awards in the US since it opened there in 2011, and it has been showing in London since last year.
It was also the first musical that I would watch since having my new cochlear implant switched on, so I was really looking forward to being able to hear the music and I wondered what it would sound like with a hearing loop, which I had not really used before. I didn’t go to musicals before I had my implant as I couldn’t hear the music or make out the lyrics when I wore a hearing aid.
We arrived at the Prince of Wales theatre where it was showing and saw that it was packed, with people queuing for tickets outside in the street, even for a Wednesday matinée. We had seats in the circle with a perfect view of the caption unit in front of us, looking down towards the stage.
I thought the stage set was amazing. It was like a psychedelic vision of heaven complete with fluffy purple clouds and sunbeams shining through them, edged by multi-coloured stained glass windows and white pillars, like you would find in a chapel. It was spectacular.
The storyline is about two mismatched young Mormon boys, the clean-cut Elder Price and the geeky Elder Cunningham who, after just completing their missionary training in Salt Lake City, get dispatched to northern Uganda for two years to try and convert the local people to Mormonism. The two Mormon boys are very fresh-faced, naive and eager to baptise the locals and convert them, but when they arrive they are shocked at what they find.
The village they have been assigned to is war-ravaged and desolate. 80% of the people there have AIDs and the villagers are under the corrupt and evil control of the local gun-toting warlord, who thinks nothing of shooting people in the face and forcing the young girls to undergo female circumcision. How on earth would they be able to convert these people to Mormonism, when they were worn down by years of oppression, starvation, violence and corruption?
This was a far-cry from the idyllic image of Africa they had expected, with one of them saying that “Africa is not like the ‘Lion King’, is it?” As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that they are not going to convert the locals by simply preaching to them from the Book of Mormon, so the ingenious Elder Cunningham, who is known for being creative with the truth, spins them a yarn about Jesus coming down in the ‘Star Ship Enterprise’ to save them, inventing all sorts of tales to twist the truth into what the locals want to hear to appeal to them, and in the process, he ends up converting them all to Mormons and baptizing them.
I found the storyline hilarious, although though the dialogue is pretty shocking. It is blasphemous, crude with lots of swearing, but it is all done in such a way that somehow you can’t take it at all seriously. I think this is a very clever trick done by the creators. It is a satire on organised religion and squeaky-clean American culture, contrasted with the appalling situation of the oppressed and poverty-stricken people in Uganda, but because it is all shown in such a comical way, you can’t help but laugh at it all.
The acting and singing was absolutely fantastic, and I was amazed that I could hear the lyrics so clearly through the hearing loop combined with my new cochlear implant. It was great for me to be able to go the theatre and hear music again after so many years, which, combined with reading the captions, was a totally new experience for me. I was still singing the words of the songs in my head as I came out of the theatre and went home.
I particularly loved the character of the weird geeky Mormon Elder Cunningham, played by the actor A.J. Holmes. When he performed the song ‘Man Up’ after being deserted by his companion and he was expected to convert the distrusting natives on his own, I was in fits of laughter. It was brilliant.
I also thought that the actress Alexia Khadime who played the Ugandan girl Nabulungi was fantastic too. She was sweet and innocent with a beautiful voice. In the scene where she sang about her dream of ‘getting the bus to paradise to what she called Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Salt Lake City), she sang it with such amazing passion and conviction, she blew the audience away. The lyrics of the song really made me laugh, such as “I bet the warlords there are really friendly, they help you across the street. There’s a Red Cross on every corner, with all the flour you can eat”. It was pure comedy gold.
Overall it was very entertaining, cheesy and camp. I just didn’t want it to end. The acting and dialogue was wacky and outrageous, just what you would expect from the creators of ‘South Park’, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It is definitely not for the faint-hearted or easily shockable though, but I loved it. I would love STAGETEXT to put on another captioned performance of this, because I cannot wait to see it again!