The Book of Mormon
Prince of Wales Theatre, London
From February 25, 2013
“The Book of Mormon” is a show almost transcended by reputation; since opening in 2011, the unstoppable Tony winning juggernaut has garnered overwhelming positive critical response and set records in ticket sales, with Broadway producers charging almost $500 US for the best seats for high demand performances. While I didn’t pay quite that much to see the show in London’s West End, it was probably the most expensive theatre I’ve ever seen. And yet I would readily have paid the same again to attend a repeat performance the next day …. it is that good.
For the uninitiated, “The Book of Mormon” is a religious satire musical from the creators of the animated comedy South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, in collaboration with Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez. It tells the story of two young and naïve Mormons, Elders Price and Cunningham (Billy Harrigan Tighe and A.J. Holmes) who are sent to a remote village in northern Uganda for their mission. Here they find a brutal warlord threatening the local population. The two optimistic missionaries, try to share the Book of Mormon, one of their scriptures, however, they experience some difficulties connecting with the locals who, worried about war, famine, poverty and AIDS, constantly blaspheme to cheer themselves up.
Some theatergoers are sure to find the show puerile. As the dialogue itself notes, “The Book of Mormon” is not like the “The Lion King” (despite its hilarious spoof of ‘Hakuna Matata’); the show is incredibly offensive and politically incorrect with dark (but clever) lyrics about Aids, baby-rape and female genital mutilation. Yet it has all the ingredients of a perfect show and, as such, represents all that is wonderful about musical theatre.
While deeper themes regarding religion run through the production, the show’s innate sense of fun makes for a highly engaging piece of musical theatre. Price tries desperately to be a nice, considerate Mormon, but his ultimate sense of entitlement has him yearning for an easy life. Cunningham, meanwhile, has no problem lying in order to make the Book of Mormon (which he confesses he’s never read) appealing to the Ugandan villagers. Together they combine to take us on a hilarious ride. Indeed, your face will ache from smiling, you may end up crying with laughter and you will probably be singing its songs all the way home. (The opening number, ‘Hello’, which introduces the Mormons, as they pop up around stage to ring doorbells is one of the best intro numbers around.)
It is difficult not to have high expectations for this show. However, whereas often in instances like this, anticipation is not always fulfilled, in this case, it is, from the outset. The ravers, it seems, are right! And I have never seen such a rapturous applause bestowed at the end of a show. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a ticket to the most hyped show in theatre history, get ready for an energetic and irreverent ride.