Last July I got a text saying that tickets for the London production of The Book Of Mormon had finally gone on sale that morning. I immediately began refreshing the server-crashed website that was selling tickets and 45 minutes later received many an odd look from my colleagues when I began whooping with joy after emerging victor with tickets to a show just days after previews were to begin on February 25th 2013.
Why should someone who has almost no interest in musical theatre be interested in The Book Of Mormon? Well, because it is the child of Robert Lopez, the co-writer/co-composer of puppet musical Avenue Q and Trey Parker & Matt Stone, the men responsible for South Park, Orgazmo and Team America.
Parker and Stone, no strangers to musical styling, subversive comedy, and religious satire have been brewing The Book Of Mormon for literally over twenty years. After their first feature, Cannibal: The Musical, Parker and Stone planned on a Joseph Smith musical that never came to fruition. And now (well, between 2003-2011), with the help of Lopez, Parker and Stone’s first foray into live theatre is here, and is an extraordinary one.
And lo, the Lord said that a musical that brews for twenty years will age into possibly the most unorthodox yet completely conventional musical ever. And totally kick ass.
Elder Price (Gavin Creel) is a devout but borderline-narcissistic Mormon missionary-to-be. His dream assignment would take him to Orlando, Florida (“the most wonderful place on Earth”) where he can fulfil his self-prophesised destiny to be the most successful missionary in history. To his dismay Price is paired with Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner), an insecure nerd and compulsive liar who is arguably the worst missionary around. Further to Price’s disappointment, he and Cunningham’s two-year assignment turns out to be in a hostile village in Uganda. Therein the pair’s faith is tested as they attempt to convert the dispassionate people of the village to Mormonism and protect them from the ruthless General Butt-F**cking Naked (Chris Jarman).
No longer at the mercy of censors much of the show’s humour is (somewhat expectedly) relentlessly ‘risqué’ and stems directly from poking fun at the alleged naivety of the Mormon religion and AIDs in Africa but there are just as many laughs that come entirely out of nowhere to tickle you silly too – a pimp Darth Vader dancing with 6-foot tall Starbucks cup being one of my personal favourites.
That said, the Monty Python-esque satire employed throughout is just the tip of the musical’s proverbial iceberg. When you take away the one-liners and a recurring joke about making love to a frog you see the show is laced with homages to musical theatre and film alike, with one of the most stand-out nods being a King and I-like show-within-a-show about the ill-perceived origins of the Mormon religion.
The production values are impressive and execution feels effortless, which is quite a feat considering the amount happening on the stage throughout the two-hour forty run-time. Aside from the ingenious songs themselves (The Book Of Mormon didn’t win 9 Tony Awards for nothing) the most standout aspect of the show is the confident performances from the cast. Creel and Gertner hit all the right notes emotionally and musically, and the supporting cast, which includes Alexia Khadime, Giles Terera and Stephen Ashfield, are all phenomenally funny and subtly tender even with their briefer stage time.
To say that the musical is even close to tasteful on the outside would be quite inaccurate but Parker and Stone’s trademark themes of morality and righteousness easily balance out The Book of Mormon’s more obscene efforts. Sure the portrayal of Mormons and their more unorthodox beliefs is a little bent and the sort-of-sequels to Team America’s “AIDs” are a tad aggressive but the classic South Park ‘I learned something today…’ moments that appear throughout the show remind us that the story being told, like the stories in the actual Book of Mormon, authentic or not, can be very real in our hearts – we just have to look past all the frog sex first.