REVIEW: The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales Theatre)

Dylan gives us an exclusive peek at the new comedic stage musical from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. 

I’ll wholeheartedly admit to being a huge fan of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s oeuvre. The more you explore their work, the more you realise that musical theatre is the link that ties them all together. All of their films and TV programmes have been soaked in comedic songs, even this moment from the David Zucker-directed movie BASEketball.

The Book of Mormon takes this to the next logical step, being a live musical theatre piece written by the duo. So does their experience found on the small and silver screen translate to the stage?

The plot follows Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, two Mormon men put on a mission in Uganda. After discovering that Africa is not the idyllic landscape The Lion King promised, their faith and relationship is tested. Especially when Elder Cunningham starts mixing the Mormon teachings with Star Trek.

I know The Book of Mormon has received a rather lukewarm reception on its UK release. From what I’ve read, many critics have focused on whether the plot is controversial or not. For me, this is missing the point. What people forget about Parker and Stone is the sweetness found in their work. The Book of Mormon is indicative of this. Although undoubtedly a black comedy, the songs are amazingly catchy and all sugar-coated – you could get a five-year-old to happily sing along to them in moments. But hidden (or in some cases, not-so-hidden) amongst all of the numbers are some of the darkest lyrics in musical history. The plot is a traditional coming-of-age/friendship story, and yet it throws in homophobia, racism and sexual disease. You are never quite sure whether to laugh or wince.

But this strange dichotomy works because the productions and performances are superlative. Just as Team America contained very well-directed action sequences, Mormon also feels like a musical that ticks the necessary boxes. Regardless of the subject matter and their own reputations, you can see how they got this funded. The Book of Mormon manages to end up in a very strong middle-ground between mocking musicals like The Lion King and being a fantastically entertaining show in its own right.

The Prince of Wales theatre is a surprisingly intimate venue, and a lot of the production is low-key in regards to set design. That’s not to say that epic set-pieces aren’t there, but it always focuses on the characters. Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner are great in the main roles, and the “buddy” side of their relationship works straight off the bat. The supporting cast doesn’t blend into the background, and though you may not know their names, they all leave a distinct impression on the evening.

The Book of Mormon’s greatest trick is that it can be a musical which explores some of the darkest things going on in the world today, and yet still leave you walking out with a big grin on your face. This is a play where a warlord who drinks blood got the biggest cheer of the night with his final line. For fans of the creators this is a must watch, but for newcomers and just plain fans of musicals, you should watch it, too. Whatever you think of its morals and satire, The Book of Mormon is just a lot of fun.

Dylan Spicer

Dylan graduated from Brighton Film School and and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. He has worked on award-winning short and feature films. He is currently experimenting with Narradu Memories, and his online audio drama giantcannibals.co.uk.

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