Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Nordic Reviews: The Book of Mormon

I'm fairly certain I've mentioned this before, but in any case – The Book of Mormon the musical once helped me out in a surprising way.

I'm somewhat interested in the history of religions, so back when I had to choose the subjects for my high school final exam, I picked the Lutheranism and World Religions test.

One of the questions was about the teachings of Mormonism.

This was 2012, so The Book of Mormon had premiered on Broadway the previous year. I loved the cast recording so much I knew every song by heart. I got the best grade in the test, and I like to think singing All-American Prophet and I Believe again and again in my head while writing helped me to ace the Mormon part. The musical lyrics include a fair amount of accurate information, after all!

And now, with that story out of the way, let's talk about the current Swedish production of The Book of Mormon.

I've seen The Book of Mormon in Stockholm twice now, though to be honest, I didn't plan on seeing this production at all.

It is something of a replica (yawn) and I was also convinced the two leads were way too old for their parts (40+, gasp). It's a fun musical, sure, but not fun enough for me to travel from Finland for it. Actually, after seeing the London production in 2012 and despite liking it, I somehow lost my interest in the musical as a whole.

Then, in February, I left for an impromptu trip to Stockholm. While there, I of course wanted to see some musical. Since I dislike Billy Elliot and the replica Phantom of the Opera way more than I'd dislike even the world's worst production of The Book of Mormon, that was my choice.

That first time, I was pleasantly surprised yet not all that excited. The acoustics and volume in Chinateatern are frankly horrible and a part of the audience was really rude (for heaven's sake, you don't stand up and leave during the encore unless you want to make a point about how much you hate the show). And though the show itself was fun, I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for it myself.

But there was something that hit me during the last scene. So far, I hadn't paid any special attention to any of the individual performances, but when Elder Price (Linus Wahlgren) gave his little speech about how they're still all Latter-day Saints... Something clicked and I realised I should have been keeping an unwavering eye on him the whole time. That moment, I knew there was way more to the character than I had realised so far. I also knew I would absolutely love his performance if I ever saw it again.

I bought my next ticket three days after returning home, and I'm glad I went back.

Upon closer inspection (I hardly blinked, let alone taking my eyes off him), I indeed adored Wahlgren as Elder Price. With a satirical comedy such as The Book of Mormon, it's easy to think of the characters as 2D charicatures – but both Wahlgren's Price and Per Andersson's Cunningham are three-dimensional and go through a tremendous amount of growth. Focusing on the leading performances instead of the full picture opened up a whole new level of this musical for me.

I also should know better about the age thing already. You know, what with my countless complaints about other theatre fans who thought some favourite of mine wasn't the right age or look for their role... Who cares, if they are otherwise a perfect fit.

As you can tell, I enjoyed my second time watching The Book of Mormon Stockholm immensely. It feels like I even understood the Swedish way better (my Swedish skills seem to come with an on/off switch). The whole ensemble is so talented! The choreography is so much fun, and so is the music, if you manage to ignore the acoustics/volume issue. It's something of a replica, sure, but localised enough to feel like its own thing. It's fresh and fun and lively.

Having refound my love for this musical, I'm going back for a third round in December. I think I'll be paying extra attention to Samantha Gurah's Nabulungi then. This time, the guys stole my attention, but I'm sure there's a lot more to her character than what has met my eye so far, too.

In the meanwhile, I'll be relearning the words to every song on the Broadway cast recording, so should the need arise, I'll be able to ace any and all Mormon-related test questions again.

A little piece of fanart.

Photos by Mats Bäcker.
I also wrote a Finnish essay about Tanz der Vampire in the aforement high school final exam.

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