Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales Theatre, 17/07/13 (matinee)

The Book of Mormon is officially the must-see musical of 2013. It turned out to be one of the best theatrical productions I have ever seen, and probably will ever see. The whole spectacle was astounding. Written entirely (book and score) by South Park creators Parker, Stone and Lopez, it is time that their genius was recognised in its entirety.

Following the story of two Mormon missionaries, Elders Price and Cunningham, we are taken not only on a journey to Uganda, but also on one that lives long in the memory. Be it the profanities, the jokes, the name-calling, the clever staging, the stunningly circular narrative or the ingenious musical numbers and score, there is something for everyone to talk about. The performances (detailed below) are simply sublime without exception, and even on a ridiculously hot and sweaty Wednesday matinee, the house was full and the cast were clearly giving it their all. All immediately good signs, next to how difficult and how expensive it is to get yourself a ticket. But you must try nonetheless!

To open the West End production, the Mormon producers sent over their two leads from the US National Tour, Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner. Sadly, Gertner was indisposed for this performance, I believe due to illness, but I am glad to report (that on the evidence of what I saw) this was a simple but very clever move from the powers that be.

As Elder Price, Creel is just a perfect fit for the role. His portrayal oozed experience and the 12 months he had already spent performing the show allowed his performance to be so polished and well finessed that you feel he could perform in his sleep and not give too dissimilar a show. It was that good. He has the perfect look and voice for Price (even though he's in his thirties!) and he rendered the score beautifully. Only on occasion did he struggle with power and volume on the very highest notes in the upper register, or 'believes' at the end of Act One and in 'I Believe' in Act Two, but I heard he had been sick in the days beforehand and it was perhaps understandable. But it did not detract at all from a well-nuanced and potentially Olivier-winning performance. Overall, a stunning job, so well done to Gavin.

Gertner's place was taken by stand-by Elder Cunningham David O'Reilly. I believe it was only his third performance and to use the old cliche, you would never ever have known. He was so confident and assured right from the word go; he knew exactly what he was doing with the character: slightly insecure and appropriately vulnerable, so that you really felt for him. The on-stage relationships he had were fantastic, particularly with Nabulungi and crucially Price. His voice was more than good enough with only one slip that I noticed, whilst his comic timing was impeccable, particularly when working with Creel. They really bounced off each other very well despite the lack of stage time together, I would presume. He also had the most wonderful range of names for Nabulungi (so good I can't remember many of them other than the fairly bog-standard ones, Jon Bon Jovi, Neutrogena and Nutella!)

The stability the two leads bring to the show is evident. They are so good that the rest of the cast are under no pressure and are just free to enjoy themselves without too much worry. This was evident in the two supporting actor roles.

Firstly, Alexia Khadime as Nabulungi. If the role could have been type-cast or handpicked from any West End leading lady of the past five years, it simply had to be Alexia for this part. She fits so well and is just so right for this role. She is naive and innocent, beautiful and also completely hilarious all in one. Her performance touched real chords, from the scenes with her father right until her part in 'Baptize Me' - which was one of my highlights of the show, because of the way she made all the double entendres so genuine and took them all so clearly at face value. It was brilliant to watch! Sal Tlay Ka Siti was gorgeous, and I wanted to hear more of her solo vocals, but she had to merely put up with being the shining light of the ensemble instead. I don't have a single complaint, and she is surely deserving of a Supporting Actress award.

It's difficult to follow all that but Stephen Ashfield as Elder McKinley does a darn fine job nonetheless. More near-perfect acting, vocals and timing, whilst being appropriately camp but knowing not to cross the line going too far over the top and becoming panto-esque. His dancing is also surprisingly very good, and 'Turn It Off' is again another personal highlight despite the bizarre and perceivably controversial lyrics. Definitely one of the catchiest numbers in the whole show, and Stephen's take on this number helps to sum up, and indeed is the epitome of, his entire performance: effortlessly good. His line delivery too is spot on and he definitely has some of the funniest one-liners as the Uganda mission lead Elder.

Other standout parts of the night? Two By Two, Hasa Diga Eebowai, any appearance by the General, and the x-ray part towards the end of Act Two. I'll say no more about any of those, but a lot of comedy gold and clever tying in of the story for sure! And this is all before I've mentioned Hello, Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, Man Up and Making Things Up Again...

Basically, the whole show is a delight. Yes, there are controversial moments, yes there is a lot of swearing, and yes the subject matter is dangerously close to crossing the line (and probably does on some occasions). But the overall essence of the show is a feel-good one. Good comes of all the madness and you find yourself sucked in to it all, without giving anything too much of a second thought, and then before you know it - it's all over. Far, far too quickly!

A special note should go out to the ensemble, led by Giles Terera as Mafala Hatimbi and in this instance, Matt Krzan who was on for Haydn Oakley in the Mission President track. Hilarity all-round. Fantastic timing, tight dancing, a very tight pit (massive well done to Nick Finlow, Ron Crocker et al) makes for, as I mentioned, one of the most enjoyable theatre experiences ever.

If there is one thing anybody should go and see this year, it is Mormon. Even if you don't like it, you won't be able to stop talking about it. And that is exactly what Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez will have wanted.

At this performance, the cast was:
Gavin Creel (Elder Price), David O'Reilly (Elder Cunningham), Alexia Khadime (Nabulungi), Stephen Ashfield (Elder McKinley/Moroni), Giles Terera (Mafala Hatimbi), Matt Krzan (Price's Dad/Joseph Smith/Mission President), Chris Jarman (General), Benjamin Brook, Ashley Day, Candace Furbert, Patrick George, Nadine Higgin, Tyrone Huntley, Evan James, Michael Kent, Oliver Lindert, Daniel Mackinlay, Terel Nugent, Olivia Phillip, Lucy St Louis, Kayi Ushe, Tosh Wanogho-Maud and Sharon Wattis.

Also in the cast are Jared Gertner, Haydn Oakley, Mark Anderson, Daniel Buckley, Daniel Clift, Thomas Goodridge, Aisha Jawando, Luke Newton, Yemie Sonuga and Liam Wrate.

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