The Book of Mormon satirical musical from the creators of South Park is set to take London by storm!
“Being gay is bad, but lying is worse,
So just realize you have a curable curse,
And turn it off! (Turn it off, turn it off!)”
Lyrics from the song – “Turn it Off”
Note: This is the first review of the opening of the sensationally funny Book of Mormon in London in 2013
Hotly anticipated is the transfer to London of the Broadway hit musical, The Book of Mormon. After Jerry Springer: The Opera raised Christian protest for both the BBC and the provincial theatres the tour was due to go to, it is refreshing to see the Mormon Church has taken out several full page advertisements in the theatre programme. Well done Mormons! What a PR coup and a very intelligent reaction to what could have been damaging! We had heard that Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s musical was blisteringly funny but very naughty as well.
It is good to know that satire is alive and well on the stage. The incredulous mythology that underpins the Mormon religion is ripe for an irreverential laugh with the wonderful story about the message handed down on golden plates and the legend about the Garden of Eden being somewhere near Jackson, Missouri.
Jesus appears early on with magnificently coiffed golden waves and a costume that is excitingly delineated by strip lighting. Then, with their chests sticking out jauntily, each Mormon missionary practises their doorbell speech to the uninitiated. In “Hello” they bring the message of eternal life, conventionally dressed, wearing white shirts with black ties and black trousers, they brim over with enthusiasm and energy and dreams about where they will be posted to recruit for the church.
We meet the key characters played by American actors, the conventional Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and the quirky, misfit Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner). Paired together, they get a nightmare of a mission to Uganda.
The Book of Mormon‘s version of Uganda is not Africa as we know it but a send up of the sanitised Africa of The Lion King, with gun toting warlords, women threatened with female circumcision and the rape of babies practised to cure AIDs. Some of this feels pretty close to the bone. I saw several in the audience grimace with embarrassment when Elder Cunningham describes Nabulungi (Alexia Khadime) as the kind of “hot shade of black” he really finds attractive, “She’s just like a latte”.
“Hasa Diga Eebowai” is a skit on The Lion King‘s “Hakuna Matata”, the idea that repetition of a simple phrase can make everything better. The humour may be a tad “in your face” for the politically correct generation and for the allegedly more sensitive Brits.
One of the best songs in the show, “Turn It Off” advocates amongst other things that men with gay tendencies should put those feelings in a box and turn them off. When the lights go down, the chorus quickly change into pink sequinned waistcoats and a spontaneous tap dance follows. No, not at all gay! What Trey Parker and Matt Stone are satirising is the idea that gay inclinations can be “turned off”.
Much of the wit in The Book of Mormon encourages us to laugh at Elder Cunningham’s interweaving the popular culture of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and into another version of religion. What is satirised here is the unbelievability of all ironically named belief systems. They only work given faith, an unquestioning belief.
I was completely won over by Casey Nicholaw’s energetic and joyous company choreography. I loved Gavin Creel’s ambitious and a little self absorbed Elder Price, “You and Me but Mostly Me!” Jared Gertner clings to his partner Elder Price desperately as he looks for a best friend. There is a running joke on Navulungi’s name as Arnold Cunningham struggles to remember it and comes up with lots of other long ‘N’ words instead like Neutrogena. They work the horsemeat joke into the script for the UK. Giles Terera is a terrific tribesman and Alexia Khadime has a beautiful voice for her solo numbers.
The Second Act opens with a big Hollywood number in Hell, brilliantly lit and extravagantly red costumed. It really is Hell, peopled by the sick imagination of people like Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer and Starbucks. The lyrics are always cheeky and I especially enjoyed the cheesy, “I Am Africa”. How excellent to work into a lyric, “We are the tears of Nelson Mandela”. The music may be slightly derivative but it is essentially hummable.
It is endearing isn’t it to see how something so zany and off the wall can be a big Broadway hit? I think The Book of Mormon will charm London audiences for quite some time.
Two By Two
You And Me (But Mostly Me)
Hasa Diga Eebowai
Turn It Off
All American Prophet
I Am Here For You
Sal Tlay Ka Siti
I Am Here For You (Reprise)
Making Things Up Again
Spooky Mormon Hell Dream
I Am Africa
Joseph Smith American Moses
Hasa Diga Eebowai (Reprise)
Tomorrow Is a Latter Day
The Book of Mormon
Book, Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker
Directors: Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker
Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
Scenic Designer: Scott Pask
Musical Supervisor and Vocal Arrangements: Stephen Oremus
Lighting Designer: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Designer: Brian Ronan
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Musical Director: Nick Finlow
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with an interval
Currently Booking: From 15th November 2021
Prince of Wales Theatre
London W1D 6AS
Tube: Leicester Square
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Prince of Wales Theatre on 1st April 2013