The Book of Mormon – Prince of Wales Theatre, London
The Book of Mormon may be Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s first stage musical but it’s far from their first foray into songwriting as anyone familiar with their work on South Park the TV show, South Park: The Movie, Team America or even Baseketball would know.
The show is both profane and scatological on a frequent basis but the one thing it isn’t, and this may surprise you, is mean-spirited. Indeed, the show has been so welcomed by the Church of Jesus Christ & The Latter Day Saints (AKA the Mormons) that the program for the show is littered with adverts for the church. However, I don’t think the show is going to be making any converts.
The story concerns two elders in the church, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, who are sent on missionary work to Uganda. Elder Price is the perfect, straight-laced, by-the-book Mormon who has been praying to be sent to Orlando but instead is paired with needy, nerdy, compulsive liar Elder Cunningham on his mission.
In Uganda they meet challenges they were ill-prepared for – famine, poverty, AIDS, and a Chieftain obsessed with female circumcision – and are faced with the prospect of trying to convince the locals that their lives can be made better by joining the church.
The show is frequently hilarious while the songs are both catchy (see opening number, “Hello!”, below) and satirical – a stand out number is a retort to The Lion King’s Hakuna Matata entitled Hasa Diga Eebowai, the translation of which shocks the missionaries to the core but somehow seems to offer the locals a sliver of comfort.
Before seeing the show I had read some criticism of the show for presenting a racist view of Africa but, again, I think that what is portrayed is carefully chosen and satirical, reflecting and skewering the views of the Western world (though as a white man who has never visited Africa, I’m probably not best placed to make that call).
Ultimately, the show is a triumph and, while I rarely see any musical theatre, offers something different from the majority of shows you’ll see (and an antidote to The Lion King which, it could be argued, presents a more racially troubling version of the continent than seen here).
At the end of the day, The Book of Mormon is a must see.
Finally – if you can’t wait/can’t make it to the theatre, the soundtrack is available on Spotify.