Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Book of Mormon, Det Ny Teater

Seems like all musicals I've seen lately deal with religious themes. After Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Prince of Egypt, last Saturday, it was time for the Danish production of The Book of Mormon in Copenhagen's Det Ny Teater.

Of course, compared with the rest of that lot, the satirical and parodical Book of Mormon is a different thing entirely. Lately, this story of two clueless Mormon missionaries in Uganda has sneakily become one of my favourite musicals – I thought I didn't much like it, but somehow, I've still seen it in three different countries during the last year alone.

Let's see how the Danish production fares.

In all honesty, I'm still confused Det Ny Teater's production, directed by Kasper Holten. It had plenty of moments I enjoyed, but somehow, I'm still baffled by it. So, to clear my mind, maybe I'll start off simply by listing some details.

Things I enjoyed:

  • Price's moves! Silas Holst is a professional dancer, and that shows. His footwork during All-American Prophet is a joy to watch.
  • All of the Ugandans have plenty of personality, more than in any other production I've seen. Their costumes by Stefen Aarfing are also nice.
  • Mafala (Robert Bengtsson) and Nabulungi (Lea Thiim Harder) have a very sweet father-daughter relationship.
  • The General's understudy was on, so Joseph Smith was played by a lady in Joseph Smith American Moses.
  • The Mission President's long, long silence after the Ugandans finish their play. Hilarious.
  • The orchestration and the orchestra, conducted by Per Engström. Top notch! There are many new, fun little details in the orhcestrations (and the variation in the volume is a welcome change after seeing and hearing the 120-dB-at-all-times Swedish production).

Things I didn't enjoy:

  • The sets and the video projections. To my tastes, the sets by Stefen Aarfing are a bit too sparse and sleek, and together with the naivistic video projections, they create an odd combo. 
  • Carsten Svendsen's Cunningham is too clean-cut. By looks alone, were it not for the glasses, you could mistake him for Price.
  • Spooky Mormon Hell Dream. They have a really impressive-looking laser show on a dark stage that almost makes the scene feel scary for real – but that's hardly the point.
  • Nabulungi is not happy after her babtism. I think it's way funnier if they, uh, reach the climax of being babtized together.
  • Cutting Nabulungi's sad Hasa Diga Eebowai reprise.

So, plenty of good and some confusion. In the end, I think the problem is not in the details – it's that the overall tone of the production feels a little bit too realistic for my tastes.

The direction of this production is more drama-like than usually. Both Price and especially Cunningham feel really easily relatable, the stereotypical aspects of both leads and the Ugandans are somewhat toned down and certain serious moments are more serious than ever. That, in turn, makes the moments of bad taste seem ever worse and the underlying severity of the whole story feel a bit too real. While it's nice they're trying something new with the material, I'm afraid that for me, it's not really working.

A fellow blogger has a good point when they say this production hasn't quite found the right balance in between originality and the original story. Check out their analysis. I agree with them, I think some scenes have a slight reinventing-the-wheel vibe going on.

This is exemplified by the scene where the General shoves the titular book up Price's behind. They tear his pants down, lube the book and make it exceedingly clear what is going to happen next. It's certainly daring and shocking to show it, but when you stage the scene like that, the reveal of the x-ray is not as suprising and therefore doesn't elicit such a huge response.

Ultimately, I'd like to quote The Simpsons: still funny, but not ha-ha funny. 

This production of The Book of Mormon is entertaining and every aspect of it is professionally done, but somehow, it's not quite the a-laugh-a-minute musical I know and enjoy. I've seen The Book of Mormon in all Scandinavian countries now, and in Sweden and Norway, the audience literally screamed with laughter. Here, the audience reactions were more subdued. Just like the production itself.

Glad I saw it once, but wouldn't necessarily go for seconds.

Photos by Miklos Szabo.

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