The 'South Park' creators' musical doesn't quite live up to the epic hype, but is still the funniest show in town.
Nic Rouleau and Brian Sears are the current Elders Price and Cunningham
Brace yourself for a shock: ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Broadway-munching musical is not particularly shocking. Sure, there are ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’ and gags about baby rape – but beneath it all, this is a big-hearted affair that pays note-perfect homage to the spirit of Broadway’s golden age as much as the sounds.
The strapping young Latter Day Saints missionaries in ‘The Book of Mormon’ are as cartoonish as any ‘South Park’ character, with the endearing alpha-male woodenness of the ‘Team America’ puppets. In other words, they are loveable, well-intentioned idiots, traversing the globe like groups of pious meerkats, convinced they can convert the heathen through sheer politeness. And if they have doubts, then as Stephen Ashfield’s scene-stealingly repressed Elder McKinley declares in glorious faux-Gershwin number ‘Turn it Off’, ‘Don’t feel those feelings – hold them in instead!’
His advice is ignored by the show’s heroes, narcissistic, highly strung Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and dumpy, lying Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner). The pair are sent to Uganda in an effort to convert a village to Mormonism, a religion that essentially tells the penniless villagers how great distant America is. The locals are not keen: Price cracks and unwisely clashes with a crazed local warlord; Cunningham makes up his own version of Mormonism which involves fucking frogs to cure oneself of Aids.
‘The Book of Mormon’ is, above all, very funny, breathing three-dimensional, all-singing, all-dancing life into the absurdities of literal Mormon dogma without ever being mean. It’s the mildest thing Parker and Stone have done, atheist in outlook but conciliatory towards anyone whose beliefs make them happy. If they and co-creator Robert ‘Avenue Q’ Lopez are angry about anything, it’s ‘The Lion King’: ‘Mormon’ neatly sidesteps accusations of racism by making its Uganda a scathing and explicit parody of that musical blockbuster’s misty-eyed romanticism.
From Casey Nicholaw’s kitsch choreography to the sheer detail of a book that hops with elan from Biblical Egypt to eighteenth-century America to a sort of vaginal version of hell, this is a tremendous show, as accomplished as it is funny. It also has as hard-working, well-drilled and odd-looking an ensemble as you’ll see on the West End.
And yet, after the biblical deluge of hype, for me ‘Mormon’ is only the best West End musical since the stronger ‘Matilda’. It offers a series of great-to-sublime songs and set pieces, but for all the laughs, as a whole it lacks the satiric purpose and angry animating spark of its creators’ other work.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone are not West End messiahs. But they are very naughty boys, and it’s hard not to love their smash musical.