BWW Review: Swedish Production of THE BOOK OF MORMON at Chinateatern, Stockholm.
Author: Isa Ponturo.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone's critically-acclaimed and smash hit musical theatre satire of Mormon missionaries was one of the biggest hypes of 2011, winning 9 Tony Awards and smashing ticket sales on Broadway and London's West End (where it is still playing). The Book of Mormon is one of those mainstream shows that "breaks the fourth wall" with non-thespians (Think Hamilton) and is currently still one of the most popular shows in the theatre world. Sweden was the first non English speaking country to make a production of this show and it opened to raving reviews earlier this year.
Before you buy tickets to see The Book of Mormon you have to be aware that the show is raw, it is crude and it is most definitely offensive. The Book of Mormon is going to offend you in some way. Whether it is a concept, lyric or the explicit language, you are almost certain to be offended at some point during the show. But it will also make you laugh. A lot.
The Book of Mormon tells the satiric story of two 19 year old Mormon missionaries sent to a remote village in northern Uganda, Africa where an evil and brutal warlord is threatening the local population. Naive and optimistic, the two mismatching missionaries seek to share their sacred Book of Mormon with the Ugandans and save their souls for Jesus. But the locals are more worried about pressing troubles such as war, famine, poverty and AIDS than about the after-life. The book, lyrics, and music are by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. Parker and Stone are most well known for their creation of the animated TV series South Park. Lopez wrote songs for Disney Animation's feature film Frozen.
I was positively surprised by the Swedish production of The Book of Mormon. I would be lying if I told you that I was not worried about how the Swedes would receive this politically incorrect show. Sweden is a very politically correct country with a strong consensus culture, where only a very limited set of opinions are considered "acceptable". I consider myself politically correct and "very Swede" but The Book of Mormon is still one of my absolute favourite shows. But the show had opened to great reviews and there was an almost audible buzz from the audience as soon as they entered the theatre with their sky high expectations. Some of them had no idea what they were in for. I know I was not the first time I saw it. Before the show started an ironic playlist of songs named "Hello" played in the auditorium. The mood was set.
I had previously seen the show in London three times and once in New York. The first time I saw the show in London back in 2013, at least three audience members walked out before the interval and did not return for the second act. But The Book of Mormon is so gleeful that it is hard for even the most easily offended audience members to really stay outraged for too long. If you ignore the raw and offensive one liners and storyline you will find that it is basically a hilarious tribute to all the things people love about Broadway and musicals: including elaborate showstopper dance numbers (tap, tap, TAP!), catchy classic show tunes inspirerad numbers, and incredible performances and sets.
The standout performance in the Swedish production for me personally was Linus Wahlgren. I thought he was brilliant and made the transition of the naively eager All American Kevin Price work well in Swedish without ruining the character. His version of "I Believe" is probably the most well sung version of this song that I have ever heard live. I would love to see him as Elder Price on Broadway or in the West End.
I like the American nerdy nerd, Star Wars-loving, slightly overweight naive teenager Cunningham more than the very "Swedishfied" late night Swedish tv show comedian (Parlamentet) Cunningham. At times it worked, I actually found myself laughing at a line or two. But Per Andersson was slightly out of character at times. The age is quite integral to the part and I personally thought he was too old or just not convincing enough in some parts. He did win over the crowd though.
The two lead characters are supposed to show typical teenage behaviour and naivety and both of the lead actors ages distracted me from that at times.
Samantha Gurah gives you charm, warmth and an amazing voice as Nabalungi.
I think the songs worked very well in Swedish. The OBC is a masterpiece and Stephen Ormeus orchestrations gives me goosebumps everytime. They are brilliantly done. I was honestly immensely concerned for the translation of the songs. Some of the best jokes unfortunately got lost in translations and between cramped lyrics to fit the songs and melody. But the translator did a fantastic job and was very loyal to the original lyrics and some changes were even better!
The response from the Mormon church in Sweden has been positive. Rather than protesting the musical, the church is giving out free examples of the real Book Of Mormon outside the theatre after act two has ended. The show is arguably a lot more offensive to Ugandans, who are basically walking, breathing stereotypes.
Elder Price: Linus Wahlgren
Elder Cunningham: Per Andersson
Elder Mckinley: ANTON LUNDQVIST
Nabalungi Hatimbi: Samantha Gurah
Mafala Hatimbi (Nabalungi's father): PETER GARDINER
General Buttfuc*kingnaked: CAMILO GE BRESKY
Ensemble: Lars-Göran Persson, Alexander Larsson, Kiralina Salandy, Sara Östberg Diakite, Elenor Margarita Eriksson, Clarissa Krabbe, Steve Shungu, Malick Afocozi, Andreas Österberg, Tony James Andersson, Tomas Strömberg, James Lund, Martin Redhe Nord, Nicklas Berglund, Robert Sillberg, Jesper Blomberg, Simen Gloppen, Mattiaz AnderssonScript & Music - Trey Parker, Matt Stone & Robert Lopez
Creative team (Swedish)
Translation: Anders Albien
Choreographer: Siân Playsted
Conductor: Jan Rådesjö
Production Designer: Anderas Bini
Costume designer: Camilla Thulin
Mask & Wig Designer: Linda Kebbon
Lighting Designer: Palle Palmé
Sound Designer: Oskar Johansson