Unless you’ve been buried in a hill in Wayne County, New York State for the last couple of years you can’t fail to have heard of this one.
The Book of Mormon arrives at the Prince of Wales Theatre in such a flurry of hype and with such an expensive marketing campaign and smartly arresting posters that it’s a wonder the folk at Dewynters aren’t going round door-to-door in pairs wearing white short-sleeved shirts, black ties and cheesy grins.
Phil knows people who rarely attend the theatre and never see musicals yet they have booked to for it. He even knows someone who has organised a group outing for 70 people, which kind of trumps any block booking the Whingers have ever contemplated, and then some. Then there’s a work colleague who asked him “Have you seen The Mormons Are Coming yet?” which suggests the publicity is at least partly getting its message across.
And the Whingers, for once, were so mindlessly excited that on the day they had to remind each other to “calm down dear, it’s only a show”. Phil had even passed many happy hours passing his cursor over the website doorbell getting himself in the mood. Expectations had gone off the scale. It couldn’t possibly be that good.
On paper it sounded just our thing: irreverent, profane and with dodgy, crude off-the-wall humour that would surely press the doorbell buttons of our own childish sensibilities. On the downside, however, it’s the work of the creators of South Patk (Trey Parker and Matt Stone plus Robert Lopez), a telly programme which Andrew has never warmed to and can’t ever recall laughing at.
Anyway, two naïve and ill-paired Mormon Elders – Price (Gavin Creel) and Cunningham (Jared Gertner) – are sent
enced to a remote village in Uganda to recruit new members but the villagers, understandably, have more pressing concerns including poverty, AIDS and the terrifying local warlord (Chris Jarman, suitably despotic) who has a peculiar obsession with female circumcision.
The local Mormon team led by Elder McKinley (a brilliantly hilarious Stephen Ashfield - an Olivier Best Supporting Role in a Musical nod surely beckons) have so far failed to convert any natives. Cack-handed attempts by Price initially fail until Cunningham, who doesn’t know the scriptures and has a predilection for embellishing the truth, creates a more interesting (but scarcely less ludicrous) Book of Mormon.
Imported Americans, Creel and Gertner deliver supremely funny and charismatic performances. The former puts in an extraordinary, energetic performance that would exhaust even those prone to Harlem Shaking and the latter gives an unlikely charm to dorkishness. The Mormon ensemble dance up a storm with the rictus grins of a chorus of Bob Downes. The choreography (Casey Nicholaw who also co-directs with Parker) is crisp, witty and – like much of the show – peppered with surprisingly huge doses of camp.
Alexia Khadime is delightful and affecting as the local girl Nabulugi. We’ll never pronounce Utah or Salt Lake City in the same way again, although we’re not quite sure when we last attempted to use either of them in a sentence. That is until after the show, when Phil revealed to Andrew he once visited Salt Lake City to which Andrew responded with a startled “Why?”
The whole thing zips along with peppy songs (“I Am Africa” is a particularly gag-filled number) and jokes which range from childish and repetitive attempts to shock to more sophisticated jibes at both conservative and liberal allegiances. Film, TV and musical references abound even though we revealed our personal preferences (and age) by being in the small percentage of the audience who cackled at a smart The Sound of Music joke.
Come prepared to be offended (or not) by racial stereotyping and jokes about AIDS, cancer, rape, female circumcision, serial killers and religion. As you might expect, and not unlike Jerry Springer: The Opera, nothing is taboo. Where it differs is that BOM has no anger and – while this makes for an easier evening in the theatre, ultimately the swipes at the Church of the Latter Day Saints sometimes feels over-affectionately done.
It also turns out to be a much more traditional musical than Jerry Springer, albeit one that is rectally-obsessed. In its balance between whole-hearted Broadway musical and poor taste it is more like The Producers than anything else although it particularly delights in lambasting The Lion King: enjoy the “Hasa Diga Eebowai” number.
It was one of those rare occasions when we had little problem joining in the ovating. TBOM was right up our Cadbury Alley and Bourneville Boulevard.
Oh, and don’t take your mother. Or at least, don’t take our mothers.
We’d go again.
Visit the Seatplan website and review any seat you’ve occupied in any West End theatre and you could win tickets for The Book of Mormon. Each review you submit up to March 31st 2013 counts as one entry into the prize draw.