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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Book of Mormon

Being gay is bad, but lying is worse,
So just realize you have a curable curse,
And turn it off! (Turn it off, turn it off!)

— Lyrics from "Turn It Off"
The Book of Mormon
Ensemble in The Book of Mormon (Photo: Johan Persson)
Hotly anticipated is the transfer to London of the Broadway hit musical, The Book of Mormon. After Jerry Springer, the Opera raised Christian protest for both the BBC and the provincial theatres the tour was due to go to, it is refreshing to see the Mormon Church has taken out several full page advertisements in the theatre programme. Well done Mormons! What a PR coup and a very intelligent reaction to what could have been damaging! We had heard that Trey Parker and Matt Stone's musical was blisteringly funny but very naughty as well.

It is good to know that satire is alive and well on the stage. The incredulous mythology that underpins the Mormon religion is ripe for an irreverential laugh with the wonderful story about the message handed down on golden plates and the legend about the Garden of Eden being somewhere near Jackson, Missouri.

Jesus appears early on with magnificently coiffed golden waves and a costume that is excitingly delineated by strip lighting. Then, with their chests sticking out jauntily, each Mormon missionary practises their doorbell speech to the uninitiated. In "Hello" they bring the message of eternal life, conventionally dressed, wearing white shirts with black ties and black trousers, they brim over with enthusiasm and energy and dreams about where they will be posted to recruit for the church.

We meet the key characters played by American actors, the conventional Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and the quirky, misfit Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner). Paired together, they get a nightmare of a mission to Uganda.

The Book of Mormon's version of Uganda is not Africa as we know it but a send up of the sanitised Africa of The Lion King, with gun toting warlords, women threatened with female circumcision and the rape of babies practised to cure AIDs. Some of this feels pretty close to the bone. I saw several in the audience grimace with embarrassment when Elder Cunningham describes Nabulungi (Alexia Khadime) as the kind of "hot shade of black" he really finds attractive, ("she's just like a latte").

"Hasa Diga Eebowai" is a skit on The Lion King's "Hakuna Matata", the idea that repetition of a simple phrase can make everything better. The humour may be a tad "in your face" for the politically correct generation and for the allegedly more sensitive Brits.

One of the best songs in the show, "Turn It Off" advocates amongst other things that men with gay tendencies should put those feelings in a box and turn them off. When the lights go down, the chorus quickly change into pink sequinned waistcoats and a spontaneous tap dance follows. No, not at all gay! What Trey Parker and Matt Stone are satirising is the idea that gay inclinations can be "turned off".

Much of the wit in The Book of Mormon encourages us to laugh at Elder Cunningham's interweaving the popular culture of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and into another version of religion. What is satirised here is the unbelievability of all ironically named belief systems. They only work given faith, an unquestioning belief.

I was completely won over by Casey Nicholaw's energetic and joyous company choreography. I loved Gavin Creel's ambitious and a little self absorbed Elder Price, "You and Me but Mostly Me!" Jared Gertner clings to his partner Elder Price desperately as he looks for a best friend. There is a running joke on Navulungi's name as Arnold Cunningham struggles to remember it and comes up with lots of other long 'N' words instead like Neutrogena. They work the horsemeat joke into the script for the UK. Giles Terera is a terrific tribesman and Alexia Khadime has a beautiful voice for her solo numbers.

The Second Act opens with a big Hollywood number in Hell, brilliantly lit and extravagantly red costumed. It really is Hell, peopled by the sick imagination of people like Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer and Starbucks. The lyrics are always cheeky and I especially enjoyed the cheesy, "I Am Africa". How excellent to work in, "We are the tears of Nelson Mandela". The music may be slightly derivative but it is essentially hummable.

It is endearing isn't it to see how something so zany and off the wall can be a big Broadway hit. I think The Book of Mormon will charm London audiences for quite some time.

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The Book of Mormon
Book, Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopz and Matt Stone
Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker

Starring: Stephen Ashfield, Gavin Creel, Jared Gertner, Haydn Oakley, Ashley Day, Sharon Wattis, Kayi Ushe, Tosh Wanogho-Maud, Giles Terera, Alexia Khadime, Chris Jarman, Tyrone Huntley
With: Mark Anderson, Daniel Clift, Candace Furbert, Patrick George, Nadine Higgin, Michael Kent, Daniel Mackinlay, Terel Nugent, Olivia Phillip, Yemie Sonuga, Kayi Ushe, Liam Wrate
Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements: Stephen Oremus
Scenic Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Brian Ronan
Musical Director: Nick Finlow
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5136
Booking to 14th December 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 1st April 2013 performance at the Prince of Wales, Coventry Stret, London W1D 6AS (Tube: Leicester Square)

Musical Numbers
Act I
  • "Hello" - Price, Cunningham and Mormon Boys
  • "Two by Two" - Price, Cunningham and Mormon Boys
  • "You and Me (But Mostly Me)" - Price and Cunningham
  • "Hasa Diga Eebowai" - Mafala, Price, Cunningham and Ugandans
  • "Turn It Off" - McKinley and Missionaries
  • "I Am Here for You" - Price and Cunningham
  • "All American Prophet" - Price, Cunningham, Joseph Smith,Angel Moroniand Company
  • "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" - Nabulungi
  • "I Am Here for You" (Reprise) - Cunningham
  • "Man Up" - Cunningham, Nabulungi, Price and Company
Act Two
  • "Making Things Up Again" - Cunningham, Cunningham's Dad, Joseph Smith, Mormon, Moroni, Hobbits and Ugandans
  • "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" - Price and Company
  • "I Believe" - Price
  • "Baptize Me" - Cunningham and Nabulungi
  • "I Am Africa" - McKinley, Cunningham and Missionaries
  • "Orlando" - Price
  • "Joseph Smith American Moses" - Nabulungi, Mafala and Ugandans
  • "Hasa Diga Eebowai" (Reprise) - Nabulungi
  • "Tomorrow Is a Latter Day" - Price, Cunningham, McKinley, Nabulungi and Company
  • "Hello" (Reprise) - Company
  • "Finale" - Company
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