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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Book Of Mormon
Prince of Wales Theatre Spring 2013 - 

Remember Jerry Springer – The Opera, and how it offended many with its rampant obscenities and blasphemies while delighting others with its exuberant and inventive bad taste? Well, The Book Of Mormon is Jerry Springer Lite. 

The Broadway musical by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone (the first and third also creators of the TV guilty pleasure South Park) sets out to be rude about the Mormon religion. 

But the satire is so gentle and the musical ultimately so conventional and good-spirited that, the usual four-letter obscenities aside, there is little here to offend your maiden aunt, even if she is a Mormon. 

(It is telling that immediately after the West End opening, the Mormon Church bought all the ad space in Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square tube stations. The ads don't quite say 'You've seen the musical, now try the religion'. But they clearly do assume you are as likely to come out of the theatre intrigued by the religion as laughing at it.) 

The Mormon Church, created in America in the Nineteenth Century, does have a number of odd beliefs, among them that Jesus spent his three pre-resurrection days in New York, brokering a peace between two Lost Tribes of Israel.

It is very much an evangelising church, and all young Mormon men spend a couple of years spreading the word door to door. The musical imagines two such missionaries sent to Uganda, where they find themselves straying from strict doctrine in their attempt to make the gospel more accessible, and more successful in making converts the further they stray.

So, about as blasphemous as the musical gets is to suggest that a version of Mormonism that includes bits of Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord Of The Rings and sex with frogs makes at least as much sense as some of what the Church actually preaches, along with a jolly production number built on the idea that the local version of Hakuna Matata translates as an obscene two fingers up to God. 

That jolliness is the key to the musical's enjoyability as well as to its inability to be too offensive.

It is a bit of an insult to Mormonism but far more of a theatrical delight to have a chorus of straight-arrow missionaries prove camper than a Judy Garland fan club. Some of the weirder bits of Mormon gospel are acted out for us with tongue firmly in cheek, but they are bizarre to begin with, at least to outsiders, and so the satire isn't particularly extreme.

Indeed, you may well find yourself hungering for more bad taste than is on display here. 

Meanwhile, the musical itself is structured thoroughly conventionally, with a lovably inept and nerdy missionary proving himself more successful than the golden boy everyone expected to triumph, even getting the girl in the process. 

The songs are light and accessible Broadway-pop, with a couple of strong musical echoes from A Chorus Line and Hairspray. 

Gavin Creel as the golden boy, Jared Gertner as his turn-the-tables sidekick and Alexia Khidime as the last of the local virgins all give attractive performances. Directors Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker keep things bubbling along, and Nicholaw's witty and high-energy choreography is a particular delight.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Book Of Mormon - Prince Of Wales Theatre 2013