★★★★★ out of 5 stars
Whenever I am in London on business I like to impulsively see a West End theater production. I pick a title that appeals to me and book the ticket at the last minute without doing much research. I had a few free days at the end of the London book fair, and decided to hedge my bets on The Book of Mormon. I was on the tube and overheard someone saying, “if you like South Park, you will love the book of Mormon.”
Immediately after booking my ticket online though I developed buyer’s remorse. Of all things, it’s a musical I found out, and I don’t really care for them. Okay let me rephrase, I quite despise musicals. I’ve seen most of the really good ones and they were mildly amusing if I’m going to be polite, but in the last twenty years or so I’ve probably only ended up seeing musicals out of necessity rather than choice.
The Book of Mormon is one of the funniest, most irreverent, most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen. It’s so delicious, I would gladly go back and see it again. I’ve never had that feeling about any theater production, let alone a musical. I left the show scratching my head trying to remember if there was one deity, one religion, one ethnicity, one sexual orientation, one minority, one social taboo that the show does not somehow offend but I couldn’t think of one. Its genius lies in making you feel you’re watching an impending disastrous train wreck, but still having a deep sense of satisfaction creeping in your chest and the inability to keep your eyes off the stage. It’s so far in the politically incorrect spectrum that it’s back again to being mainstream. I think. It’s crafted with rare artistic intelligence so even the most jaw-dropping, I-can’t-believe-they-just-said-that profanities and offenses come from a tender, non-malicious place. It’s the sort of production where the extent of its not taking itself too seriously is so potent it acts as a prophylactic against its potentially virulent critics. Because if you do take offense, then you’re the ass and the joke is on you.
Its shameless entertainment value aside, in an almost absurd sort of way, the show is a great introduction into Mormonism, and it’s most unlikely prophet Joseph Smith. Let’s face it, unless you are Mormon, live in Utah, or a theologian, your sum knowledge of Mormonism is likely going to be limited to its historic views on polygamy, Salt Lake City, the Marriott family, and Mitt Romney. While The Book of Mormon is often described as a religious satire, I left the show with an odd and unexpected fondness of Mormons, and a desire to meet one and be preached to. It’s inexplicable and entirely ridiculous that a musical show could do that to you.
In a nutshell, because I strongly believe you should go see the show with as little preconceived notions as possible, it’s a story of two young, ill-matched Mormon missionaries whose assignment is in a Godforsaken part of Uganda. Upon arriving, they find the villagers who they intend to preach to and baptize have far more pressing realities to worry about like extreme poverty, disease, natural disasters, chronic hunger, AIDS, and a menacing rebel leader who’s got it out for the female clitoris. Just this premise alone should give you enough idea of the preposterous comedic potential, which the show’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame fully capitalize on.
The London cast of the production was outstanding. There was not a missed beat or an off note. The soundtrack and the songs have entirely challenged every bias I held against musical theater. The stand out performance was hands down by Alexia Khadime playing Nabulungi, a beautiful woman with a matching voice who will tickle the heart of any red-blooded male in the audience. ♥
The Book of Mormon is now playing at the Prince of Wales Theater in London, on Broadway in New York, and is currently touring the United States, including the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles.