The Book of Mormon, the hit musical from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, has two key unique selling points, apart from the non-stop comedy. It’s a musical which does not plunder a back catalogue of someone’s greatest hits and it is not based on a movie. For those reasons alone, it is a breath of fresh air.
Manchester is the first stop of the UK tour and audiences new to the show will be sat alongside die-hard fans, as this show has a huge following of repeat visitors.
If you are familiar with Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s work in South Park and Team America, you’ll be expecting a musical which gives the genre a kick up the ass. The show does just that. But like Bialystock and Bloom in Mel Brooks’ The Producers, another subversive genre busting hit, the double act of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham provide the show with heart alongside the controversial bits.
We follow two Mormon missionaries in their quest to preach their religion to the inhabitants of a Ugandan village. Not really an ideal target audience, considering that they have to contend with poverty, AIDS and famine.
Add jokes about raping babies, having sex with frogs and genital mutilation and stir, then add some excellent songs by Parker, Stone and Robert Lopez, and you somehow end with a show which makes you laugh out loud, in the same way as a Mel Brooks or Monty Python film.
And because of the dazzling performances of the two lead actors, Kevin Clay (Elder Price) and Conner Peirson (Elder Cunningham), there are unexpectedly poignant moments.
If you’re a lover of big Broadway-style musicals, you won’t feel left out either. The songs may be filled with jokes, but this is far more than a gag fest. It’s a celebration of Broadway with big tap-dancing numbers which are reminiscent of an MGM movie musical. The songs are incredibly memorable and contain big hooks and every member of the ensemble is used effectively.
The first half is so fast paced and funny with the action never letting up for one second, that the second half can never deliver all that is promised.
When you return after the interval, there is a great deal of repetition. And for some, jokes about raping babies will seem like a step too far. For me, it is the repetition that grates. Once you have had the shock and giggled through your hands, you want another one, not more of the same. I felt exactly the same way with the repeated use of one joke in the film Team America.
Kevin Clay and Conner Peirson are the kind of double act that recalls the heyday of the great buddy movies The Odd Couple, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with the irreverent humour of 21 Jump Street thrown in.
Nicole-Lily Baisden as Nabulungi has a knowing glint in her eye. She knows that a stereotype is being subverted, has a sweet singing voice and a real knack for comedy.
With pressed white shirts, ties and shiny shoes, many of the ensemble could simply fade into the background. But nobody does, because Stone and Parker allow supporting characters to grimace, raise their eyebrows, and connect with you in a way that you rarely see. And this gives the show added zip.
The Book of Mormon is pitched somewhere between two masterpieces of musical theatre, The Producers and Jerry Springer The Opera because it does not alienate newcomers to the theatre or people who live in the stalls. The cast work their tap shoes off, and it’s because of their commitment and dynamic delivery that you leave the theatre with a big fat smile on your face. And we really need that right now.
Big, bold, beautifully performed and bodacious in its quest to do something different but still follow established codes and conventions, The Book of Mormon brings Broadway pizazz and irreverent humour to Manchester until August 24th.