BWW Review: Norwegian BOOK OF MORMON is a Must-See Delight!
It still feels just as liberating to immerse oneself in the ridiculous humor "The Book of Mormon". Even more so today where pretty soon nothing can be satirized or made fun of without offending some part of society. In fact it makes the musical feel even more fresh and relevant today than it was back in 2011.
"The Book of Mormon", written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Bobby Lopez, follows the two Mormon missionaries Kevin Price (Frank Kjosås) and Arnold Cunningham (Kristoffer Olsen) as they attempt to share their scriptures with the inhabitants of a remote Ugandan village. The earnest young men are challenged by the lack of interest by the locals, who are preoccupied with more pressing troubles such as AIDS, famine, the raping of babies and a General warlord who likes to kill people in the nude. Ultimately the people's fate rests in the hands of Cunningham who knows little about the ways of the Mormon Church but more in the ways of the force and Middle Earth.
The Norwegian production of The Book of Mormon, which just re-opened following a highly successful first season in Oslo (and later in Kristiansand), looks and feels like the original Broadway production, yet it is not a replica version in any way. Some of the artistic/comedic choices made by (first time) director Vidar Magnussen are very inventive. Most of the time they serve the subject matter perfectly. Such as doing incredibly bad lip reading during the opening by Mormon, Jesus and Moroni wearing cardboard cutout costumes, or presenting the devil as a huge chili pepper and his minions as hot spicy vegetables during the nightmare sequence in act two.
The opening number "Hello" is done to the backdrop of the interior of Mormon church which is presented in "super forced perspective" and looks amazing. One of these set pieces is used as a white and shiny aircraft stair that revolves during "But Mostly Me" with Price and Cunningham on the top of the stairs and ten revolves to be show a rusty old aircraft stair on the other side as they arrive in Uganda. Clever and inventive stage design by Gjermund Andresen.
The breakout star of this production is Kristoffer Olsen playing Arnold Cunningham. His comedic timing combined with his musical theatre training is a feast to the eyes and ears. He empowers every scene with silliness, idiocy, absurdity and yet manages to keep it from going too far with a natural naiveté. Frank Kjosås, playing his companion Elder Price, is in great shape, once again, but comes up a little short in the shadow of Olsen, which is a problem since Cunningham really should be in Price's shadow (in the beginning, at least).
Anette Amelia Hoff Larsen shines brightly as Nabulungi. Her rendition of " Sal Tlay Ka Siti" is both funny and deeply heartbreaking. She proves herself to be one of Norwegian musical theatre's strongest belters.
Of the supporting players worth special mention we have Marvin Amoroso, as Mafala, who is already known for his great voice, but who knew he could be this funny? Niklas Gundersen is strong as Joeseph Smith and a multitude of other characters. Preben Hodneland is awkwardly hilarious as the closeted gay Elder McKinley. New to the cast is Adela Cudjoe who replaces Markus Bailey as the General. It is a fantastic gag to have him dancing, totally naked facing away from the audience with a huge machine gun in each hand during the act one finale. A true "Trey Parker & Matt Stone-moment".
The rest of the ensemble is pretty much flawless in every way, to put it in simple terms. The Mormon cast are (mostly) "triple-threats" which is a must for this show, and the Ugandan cast is a mixture of actors, singers and dancers (Some of them new to musical theatre). Thankfully the ever faithful Johan Osuldsen is at the helm as choreographer and musical stager. He manages to make even the newcomers to the genre shine like seasoned professionals. The choreography is full of comedy and is generally more story-serving, and less less preoccupied with showing fancy dance steps. Works very well, indeed. The tap-number is done by Anneli Moe and is one the evenings highlights.
The show works on every level, and the humor hits exceptionally well in Norwegian (Thank God!). Comedian Are Kalvø has translated the musical. Det norske teatret proves that is once again a leading player in musical theatre both in Norway and Europe . In recent years they have been a little uneven, with both well-produced productions like the European premiere of "Next to Normal" and "If/Then" and some awful ones, like the recent revival of "Sweeney Tood". "The Book of Mormon" is a milestone for Norwegian musical theatre. Not since "Annie" back in 1991 has a Norwegian musical theatre production been playing for more than two seasons. Could "The Book of Mormon" be the show to extend that record? God only knows!
Promotional photos by Eirk Malmø