The Book of Mormon

Book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
Prince of Wales Theatre, London

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Jared Gertner and Alexia Khadime Credit: Johan Persson
The Book of Mormon London Company Credit: Johan Persson
Gavin Creel and Chris Jarman Credit: Johan Persson

The Book of Mormon has been one of Broadway's greatest success stories of the last few years. With a creative team by South Park out of Avenue Q, this is the kind of thoroughbred that would win a theatrical Grand National on reputation alone.

Even before it opened, the returns queue was as big as the audiences for some competing West End productions. Such over-hype can kill but this remarkable invention has enough comedy, razzmatazz and even an unexpected message to become the hottest ticket in town.

The existence of any message seemed highly unlikely for almost the whole of the 2½ hours, as a bunch of loud Americans poked fun at a religion, an exercise often graced in this country with the term "blasphemy".

The fact that Mormonism is a religion like no other allows greater scope. For the ignorant, the script proves enlightening, telling the tall-sounding tale of Joseph Smith, a modern American prophet who discovered, transcribed and then lost the Bible's third testament.

This might sound good when related by a paired team of clean cut missionaries who look like airline stewards and self-importantly insist on calling themselves Elder. When it is told via rock song and sharply-choreographed dance routines, the irony is obvious.

If nothing else, this means that the US tour will probably not be stopping at Salt Lake City, home of the religion, nor will it be on the Christmas gift list for recent presidential hopeful Mormon Mitt Romney.

He and, it has to be said, a number of other potential viewers could find this show gratuitously offensive. If they don't, the writers have failed in their intentions. As with South Park, bad language, bad attitude and bad behaviour is the point.

What the American creative team, including co-director / choreographer Casey Nicolaw do extremely well is cover up their more formulaic moments.

Some of the songs may smack of Monty Python, while the two mismatched leads bring to mind The Producers or for that matter Abbott and Costello.

However, it takes a keen eye to notice as American imports Gavin Creel, tall and handsome, and Jared Gertner, short and tubby, are coupled and sent off to convert terrified, AIDS-infected Ugandans into Latterday Saints.

Elders Price and Cunningham are classic comic opposites, so inevitably the heroic proto-Master of the Universe fails, while his mendacious, friendless companion makes unexpected inroads despite the opposition of an oversized, heavily-armed warlord.

The talented duo get many but by no means all of the best jokes and bounciest songs. The ensemble proves to be energetic, humorous and well-drilled when opportunities come up, while Alexia Khadime playing Mabulungi the local virgin, has a lovely voice and will win many male hearts.

Most of the best jokes come at the expense of the Mormon religion, particularly when it is updated with modern reference points that still make it no less plausible than the original version—at least as presented here.

Some may find this show crude, offensive and possibly even tedious. The vast majority will love the humour, bop to the songs despite themselves and revel in the experience of a top quality modern, rock musical that does not take itself too seriously.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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