The Book of Mormon
West End Production
Prince of Wales Theatre, London
Wednesday 27th February 2013
Written by the fathers of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon has stormed Broadway since its opening in March 2011. Popular with audiences and critics alike, this controversial show picked up 9 Tony awards for it's Broadway production, including Best Musical, as well as a Grammy award for Best Musical Theatre Album. And now the Mormons have come to London.
The story follows a pair of young, naive Mormon missionaries as they are sent to a remote village in Uganda to share the word of the Book of Mormon with the local villagers. However with the locals more concerned with their own problems; war, poverty, AIDS; the missionaries have a hard sell on their hands.
If you are aware of the previous work of Messrs Parker and Stone, you will not be surprised to learn that this show contains some extremely strong language, offensively crass stereotypes, exaggerated bigotry and is generally offensive in every way - if you have the wrong sense of humour for it. If you were offended by South Park then this is perhaps not for you.
What this exquisite musical delivers however, is a brave, clever, uncompromising satire on contemporary world issues. It is modern theatre at it's best, unafraid to crash through conventions. Out to shock, certainly, but also to warm hearts with rounded, lovable characters. It delivers this all in complete synchronicity, wrapped up in a huge coating of endless hilarity. I have simply never laughed so much in the theatre.
The entire ensemble are the epitome of perfect casting. Performances across the board are tightly choreographed, intricately directed and superbly accomplished. Gavin Creel as Elder Price and Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham work ideally together. Both American, having been in The Book of Mormon on the US Tour, their comfort with the piece is clear and they bounce off each other generously, creating a hugely entertaining partnership. The beautiful Alexia Khadime is excellent as Nabulungi, with sugary sweetness and a very powerful voice. Deserving of his huge cheer at the curtain, Stephen Ashfield was also wonderful as the conflicted Elder McKinley. Both the Mormon and the Ugandan ensembles are made up of individually talented performers, but it is as a group that each shines at their best. The Mormon ensemble's "Turn it Off" number is priceless, with the best dance routine of the show and an opportunity for some delightful individual characterisations as well as deft teamwork. It is the Ugandan ensemble however, with their version of the story of Joseph Smith performed to the Mission President, that had my eyes streaming and sides splitting with laughter. Their performances of wide eyed innocence and expectation made the scene increasingly funny as it progressed deeper into the ridiculous, and was entirely deserving of the show-stoppingly long cheer it received as an individual number.
There will definitely be people that hate this show - there was the odd empty seat after the interval - but those who do not do their research and understand what to expect of a "religious satire" written by the likes of Parker and Stone deserve to be offended. For the 95% of the rest of modern society who will love it all, this musical represents the new lofty heights to which future musical comedies must aspire. You will laugh, cry, gasp and cringe, but above all I defy you not to end up on your feet cheering. I am converted.