Theatre Review: The Book of Mormon

Ticket and Programme (£4) for Book of Mormon, now showing at Prince of Wales Theatre, London.

Ticket and Programme (£4) for Book of Mormon, now showing at Prince of Wales Theatre, London.

Launched in the West End just nineteen months ago, ‘The Book of Mormon’ has all the ingredients to be a smash-musical-hit. Written by the creators of South Park, and with Robert Lopez on board who also helped compose and write the lyrics to some of Avenue Q’s music this is a musical that works on so many levels and entertains many.

The first proviso to offer for this review, is that if you are religious to the point that you can’t accept some ‘close to the bone’ humour then this is definitely not the musical for you. On the performance we saw, we caught glimpse of a couple who walked out of the theatre after the song ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ – and the meaning of that is possibly the most offensive the show will get.

Getting down to business this is the story of two Mormon missionaries sent on their two year missionary work to Uganda. There is Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) who was desperately hoping to go to Orlando, and is clearly top of his class; and accompanying him is Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) who has a tendency to make things up. It will come as no surprise to you about which one of these has read the Book of Mormon, and which one hasn’t. Together they discover that religion is low on the Ugandan’s agenda given their world is threatened by violence and famine.

There is an argument that this is almost ‘serious’ comedy. With the people of the Ugandan village facing female genital mutilation at the hands of a malicious general who commits a brutal murder part way through the first act this is a musical not afraid of pulling punches. In the name of comedy however the whole thing draws itself to an amusing conclusion when Elder Price walks out on Elder Cunningham leaving him to teach the ‘Book of Mormon’ to the villagers who are now interested having been convinced by Nabulungi (Alexia Khadime).

Heavy on laughs, whilst the plot raises serious issues and pokes fun at the same time, the music is also well written. With songs such as ‘Hello’ (No… not Lionel Ritchie), ‘Turn it off’ and the two particularly amusing songs ‘Man Up’ and ‘Joseph Smith American Moses’ there are tunes you will be singing long into the night after viewing. However if you are considering buying the soundtrack I am not sure how well these will translate without the amusing choreography and improvisation. However to give you a small taster of what you could be missing – here’s a clip from the Tony’s below…

Some of the people I went with were slightly underwhelmed by the performance. The danger with Book of Mormon is that it is clearly so hyped up having won Tony’s and Olivier Awards galore, people are expecting something truly mind-blowing and exceptional. However, having seen more than my fair share of theatre this year, this is clearly one of the best musicals I have seen in the last couple of years, potentially only rivalled by the criminally undervalued ‘I Can’t Sing’ which only lasted at the Palladium for six weeks.

In terms of tickets, the cheapest available for the musical are £39.75 unless you find a good offer – be wary of those that are too good to be true – or unless you find a theatre website malfunction which the delightful people at Delfont Mackintosh decide to honour. This, dear readers, is what we benefited from spectacularly – seeing this from seats on a Saturday night that are usually priced at £150 – we paid just £15 each! However, I would happily have paid more, and urge those who liked Avenue Q or even those who liked some of the early episodes of South Park to take a look at this fantastic musical.

The cast are clearly enthusiastic, the performance we saw had the lead role of Elder Price played by understudy Ashley Day – but you would never have known that he was the understudy and if that doesn’t convince you, he also had a bit of the ‘Zac Efron’s’ about him, having previously played Troy Bolton in the UK Tour of High School Musical. Ably accompanied on his travels by A.J. Holmes who is fantastically amusing, especially during the song ‘Man Up’ these two were a brilliant pairing providing the right foil for each other and a solid base from which the equally brilliant supporting ensemble could perform from.

The Book of Mormon is currently playing at The Prince of Wales Theatre, Coventry Street, London. Tickets can be purchased from www.bookofmormonlondon.com with bookings currently being taken until December 2014.