THE BOOK OF MORMON
Prince of Wales Theatre, Saturday 2nd November, 2013
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of anarchic animation South Park, have struck another rich vein of subversive humour in this hit musical about missionary work in Africa. Young Mormon Elders, Price and Cunningham are sent to Uganda for two years to convert the locals. It’s hardly Price’s first choice – he’d prefer Orlando, Florida – while Cunningham is just happy to be by Price’s side. Their arrival quickly shows them that Africa is misrepresented by The Lion King, and a village of truculent natives is the least of their problems. Along the way, Price’s faith is sorely tested, and annoying twerp Cunningham is given the opportunity to ‘man up’.
Despite its hilarious and controversial subject matter (debunking religion, addressing female genital mutilation…) as a musical, the show is very conventional. The songs are tuneful and the lyrics are witty in a foul-mouthed Disney kind of way. There is much of the spoof and the pastiche but its delights come from content rather than the form.
Gavin Creel is just about perfect as enthusiastic, egotistic, conceited Elder Price who learns a (very) painful lesson. His voice is powerful and clear. When he belts out ‘I believe’ it’s like a clarion call. Jared Gertner is excellent as Elder Cunningham; insufferable, suffocating, and creepy at first, the elder gains courage in his convictions – albeit with some interpolations from George Lucas and Tolkien thrown in along the way. Alexia Khadime’s Nabalungi is the heart of the story, longing for a better life; her song about Salt Lake City reminds me of Somewhere That’s Green from Little Shop of Horrors.
There is a chorus of happy, preppy Mormon boys, repressing their negative feelings, and there is a chorus of spirited Ugandans – their re-enactment of the founding of the Mormon religion is a highlight of cross-cultural mash-up, like an explicit and foul-mouthed Uncle Tom’s Cabin from The King & I. In fact, there are many overt and covert references to other shows and popular culture throughout the evening.
There is strong support from Giles Terera as Mafala Hatimbi, Stephen Ashfield as Elder McKinley, and there is outrageous menace from Chris Jarman as local despot The General.
Good-natured, mocking and irreverent, The Book of Mormon is uplifting and energising. Think Avenue Q meets Jerry Springer the Opera. There is a message of living well and being kind, without the made-up stories you might find in a book or even a trilogy of science fiction films.