Thursday 12 June 2014

The Book of Mormon @ The Prince of Wales Theatre

Yes, I’m a little latter day to the Mormon party, but even over a year since it opened on the West End, after countless awards and sell-out shows, The Book of Mormon remains the biggest show on the West End at the moment.  From Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the creators of South Park) and Robert Lopez (co-composer/co-lyricist of Avenue Q), it tells the tale of a naive pair of Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to spread the word of the titular book.  It’s brash, crude and obscenely hilarious, yet underneath it all is a slick and incredibly well written musical.  Here’s four reasons you need to see it immediately:

It’s typical Parker and Stone
Fans of Parker and Stone’s previous work (namely South Park and Team America: World Police) will be instantly familiar with the boundary pushing humour that The Book of Mormon offers.  Jam-packed with racism, sexism and prejudice, it’s certainly on the extreme end of the spectrum, yet despite touching upon some dark issues it remains totally light-hearted in its gentle mockery of religion that's full of warmth and reverence.  The book might be highly satirical, but its jokes and one-liners are never less than pant-wettingly amusing and have the audience gasping “where can they go from here?!”.

Mostly, it’s the references that amuse – not only to musical theatre and wider pop culture, but to Parker and Stone’s own work.  The ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ for instance, with its oversized Satan character and historical villains, is straight out of South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, whilst the flailing puppet-like choreography and frequent references to Aids will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Team America.  As such, The Book of Mormon may not be as original as it first seems, but ultimately this is the Parker and Stone show to end all shows.

The Music
In a world of classic revivals and jukebox pop musicals, it’s refreshing to see a new musical with such a well-written score (even if it is full of clever clich├ęs).  Every single song is not only hilarious but equally memorable for its catchy tunes: from cheeky opener ‘Hello’, to the hilarious mis-pronunciation of Salt Lake City in ‘Sal Tlay Ka Siti’, the soaring ballad ‘I Believe’ at the heart of the show, and the collection of African stereotypes in ‘I Am Africa’.  You WILL come out singing the songs and you WILL want to listen to the soundtrack immediately afterwards – if that’s not the sign of a good musical I don’t know what is. 

The references continue in the score too.  ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ is a clear parody of the Lion King’s ‘Hakuna Matata’ (though it’s FAR ruder), ‘You And Me (But Mostly Me)’ lampoons Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’ and the way ‘Man Up’ fuses together previous songs to end the first act resembles the ‘Quintet’ from West Side Story.  Regular theatre-goers will find plenty to laugh at in the score, but the songs are individually amusing in their own right too.

The Performances
The high camp, hyperactive, hyperbolic style of the production is like watching a cartoon on-stage and it’s down to the hugely talented cast that the show is such a joy to watch.  The seemingly-animated ensemble will have you crying with laughter, juxtaposing the wide-eyed perpetual positivity of the over the top Mormon missionaries with the down-trodden, disbelieving Africans and the tyrannical General.  Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner reprise their roles as Elder Price and Elder Cunningham from performing in the US – Creel is vocally outstanding with a high tenor to match the naivety of Price, whilst Gertner’s comic timing is impeccable as Cunningham.  They’re joined by Alexia Khadime as Nabulungi, who presents a different type of innocence as the daughter to the African chief with a powerful voice and consistently funny accent.  As a whole, the high-energy performances will not disappoint.

There’s nothing else like it
Where most musicals are seen as family entertainment, The Book of Mormon is wholeheartedly an adult show.  No other show would dare to poke fun at religion, Aids, rape, homosexuality, musical history or drop a c-bomb.  This is a musical comedy in the most literal sense, aimed squarely at a modern adult audience – only Avenue Q can compare.  It is breathtakingly funny and silly, but it’s got the music, comedic book and talented cast to back it up.  In fact, it’s got everything you could want from a musical that will make you jump in the air, shout “I believe!” and stump up the cash for another ticket - no wonder it's so frickin' popular.  Tomorrow might be a latter day, but don't wait until then to see it.


Watch: The Book of Mormon is booking at the Prince of Wales Theatre until September 2014.