Review: The Book of Mormon (Palace Theatre, Manchester and tour)
The hit comedy musical heads out on tour
The Book of Mormon is hardly an inconspicuous musical. A juggernaut since its opening on Broadway in 2011, the show has smashed numerous box office records and attracted mass critical acclaim. The musical has grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide, with shows across three different continents.
Despite the fact the musical has been a staple of the West End for a number of years, this performance in Manchester represents the first time the play has toured in Britain outside of the capital. The story itself tells the tale of two young Mormon missionaries as they attempt to preach their religion to a Ugandan village more worried about avoiding AIDS and co-operating with the local warlord General Butt-F**king Naked. Just about every billboard and bus stop in Manchester has been advertising this play's arrival in recent weeks, so the show certainly has plenty of hype to live up to.
Fortunately, this performance at The Palace Theatre succeeds in maintaining the levels of quality that has made The Book of Mormon such a success over the last decade – this is a thoroughly polished and professional production. Scott Pask (set) and Brian MacDevitt (lighting) have both won Tony Awards in the past for their work on this musical, so it is little surprise that the set design and lighting work seamlessly together throughout. The synergy between the pair is most apparent in flashbacks to Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, as the religious founder's ridiculous stories of conversing with Jesus are met with a great deal of hilarity.
Casey Nicholaw's choreography is also excellent with the undoubted highlight being the Elders' tap dance during "Turn It Off". Generally, the scenes that involve the horde of Mormon missionaries are the funniest and "Turn It Off" might well be the best song in the entire musical. The Mormon ensemble are ably led by Will Hawksworth, who turns in the performance of the evening as Elder McKinley – the most entertaining scenes of this production invariably involve Hawksworth in some capacity. Kevin Clay and Conner Peirson (Elders Price and Cunningham respectively) revise roles they performed during American shows to great acclaim – the chemistry between them onstage is evident.
The Book of Mormon is unapologetically sensationalist and it is hard to complain when the results are this entertaining. Watching Hitler, Genghis Khan, Jeffrey Dahmer and Johnnie Cochran dance around with the devil during "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" makes one wonder what Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, the show's writers, were eating for breakfast when they came up with this plot. Now and again however the script relies a little heavily on shock factor as comedy – outrageous does not necessarily equate to hilarious after all. Dialogue also tends to revert to the same stock gay jokes and follow the mantra; 'if in doubt, throw the word lesbian in for good measure!'
These are small details however in what is an extremely enjoyable and impressive musical. Do not sleep on tickets.