Review Round-up: Did Book of Mormon convert the critics?
Date: 22 March 2013
The hotly anticipated West End transfer of Tony Award-winning musical The Book of Mormon opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre last night (21 March 2013, previews from 25 February).
Written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez, the show follows a pair of Mormon boys sent on a mission to a place that's a long way from Salt Lake City.
Directed by Parker and Casey Nicholaw, The Book of Mormon stars Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner (pictured) as Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, alongside Alexia Khadime, Giles Terera, Chris Jarman and Stephen Ashfield.
…how refreshing it is to see a show on a West End stage that resonates so widely across the cultural spectrum… in the main this is a cornucopia of comedy musical treats. Creel and Gertner… seem unmatchable as the mismatched missionaries, giving performances of enormous energy, wit and technical skill. And they're ably supported by the British contingent, including Stephen Ashfield stealing many of the biggest laughs as the closeted Elder McKinley and Giles Terera as a hopeful-against-the-odds Ugandan villager. Co-director Casey Nicholaw's witty choreography matches the pin-sharp nature of the material, while designer Scott Pask serves up a slick and often humorously coarse series of settings… Parker and Stone have revealed a maturity and sensitivity lacking from their screen work.
…I absolutely loved it – albeit slightly guiltily. Directed with terrific zap and zestful precision by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker… Gavin Creel is brilliantly engaging (and stout of voice) as Elder Price… Jared Gertner is totally adorable as his gatheringly not-so-forlorn sidekick… Stephen Ashfield is hilarious as the team-leader… there is also something very winning about its spirit… songs, though not especially memorable, have bounce and bite and colour. And the spirit of the piece is tremendously attractive. The makers claim that they have an equal opportunities policy in relation to offence. That could read as an avowal that they have no convictions to have the courage of. But that is not not how it feels.
Strip away all the hype surrounding this hit Broadway import and what do you find? A mildly amusing musical, with some knowingly parodic songs, that takes a few pot shots at religious credulity without ever questioning the need for belief. I had a perfectly pleasant time, but the idea that the show, which won nine Tony awards, is either daringly offensive or a Broadway breakthrough is pure codswallop... That's not to say it doesn't have its pleasures… the show is efficiently directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, and offers a perfectly decent night out. What it lacks, though, is the courage of its own convictions… the biggest myth of all is that it's somehow a landmark American musical.
…while acknowledging that it is often damnably clever and sharp, I find it hard to warm to the show… Essentially this is an odd-couple buddy musical… The show is staged with witty panache by Parker and Casey Nicholaw, the latter also responsible for the lively choreography. The songs, though mostly pastiche, have undoubted flair and the production is stylishly and wittily designed by Scott Pask. The American actors Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner make a cracking double-act as the mismatched missionaries but The Book of Mormon strikes me as a decadent and self-indulgent musical, and its mixture of satire and syrup ultimately proves repellent. I am the first to concede however that this is likely to be a minority view.
At its best The Book of Mormon is indecently funny. It often makes you want to grimace or gnaw your fist, but there are bursts of brilliant comedy, and it’s hard not to be swept along by its joie de vivre… The music… is generally jaunty and from time to time soars operatically, though only three or four of the tunes are really memorable… Parker and Stone have created something spirited and refreshing… a cast that includes sharp supporting turns from Giles Terera, Alexia Khadime and Chris Jarman… For all its cartoonish devilry, it ends up feeling benign, joyous and even cuddly.
...Written by Robert Lopez and the South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, it offers big belting numbers, witty lyrics and joyfully athletic dances (choreography by Casey Nicholaw)… while ostensibly giggling at Mormons, we are invited to join Broadway in its breezy global-dominating acceptance that Africans are either childishly gullible or mindlessly brutal... I am fine with jokes about religion, zealotry, sex, bums, willies, clitorises, all that. And, yes, Mormons bought advertising space in the programme. But I don’t see any Ugandans wanting to. Even though the dances are great.
There is not much subtlety to The Book Of Mormon… I tired of it after ten minutes… The comedy aims for the razzle-dazzle of The Producers and the sacrilege of The Life Of Brian. It is at least two divisions below those two classics… Shocking? No. The sweaty tempo just made it seem desperate, low-rent… They promote western values with a benevolence quite lacking from US political and cultural power. But to satirise those forces might not make one a fortune on Broadway. This is a cowardly, coarse, cynical show, worth avoiding.
...Stone and Parker relentlessly lampoon the do-gooding egomania of evangelicalism and the absolutist parables of religious texts while simultaneously suggesting that religion itself is no bad thing... Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner are outstanding as the two Elders on personal journeys of self-discovery, while Stone and Parker’s deep love for Broadway radiates from every expertly choreographed shimmy… Helplessly funny and terrifically entertaining, The Book Of Mormon is a foul-mouthed love letter to one’s fellow man that suggests where to shove God in two different languages.
...The Book of Mormon is, above all, very funny... It’s the mildest thing Parker and Stone have done, atheist in outlook but conciliatory towards anyone whose beliefs make them happy… 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… 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.
- by Rosie Bannister