Throwback - Book of Mormon (June 2014)

Okay, so where do I begin? Book of Mormon has been on my radar ever since the famed Tony Award performance that had everyone singing ‘HELLO…MY NAME IS ELDER PRICE!!!’ for well over half a year at every opportunity! Since then my love for this show has been steadily growing until BAM (!) it opened in the West End last year… With the HIGHEST ticket prices I had ever seen! Still, I was determined to see it! Yet my lack of money and the fuss it takes to get down to London kind of put me off, so I stayed content with my CD until one fateful day my sister said that infamous phrase “I’ll buy you Book of Mormon tickets for Christmas if you want.” … .. . ARGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

Fast forward half a year and here we are! Yes, last Wednesday I finally saw Book of Mormon for the first time ever! And it was GLORIOUS! The show, headlined by the gorgeous Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner, is performed in the beautiful, towering building that is The Prince of Wales Theatre. A stunningly designed building with one of the best seating layouts I have ever seen! (Seriously, my sister and I were sitting in Stalls O37 and O38, in the 2nd from lowest price band (okay, so they were like £50 per person, but for Book of Mormon let’s just enter the realms of fantasy for a few minutes (you’ll have to get used to that with this show!) and pretend that they are cheap seats!)

Before I begin my review/recount, another thing you may or may not know about me is that Gavin Creel is one of my favourite male musical theatre performer. Ever. In fact, he was another big draw initially, as the prospect of finally seeing my favourite singer perform live in one of my favourite musicals was intensely exciting (you should have seen me during the Olivier Awards.…’sobbing’ is an understatement!). However, on the day my sister and I saw the show, the preshow voiceover announced that ‘in today’s performance of The Book of Mormon the role of Elder Price will be played by Ashley Day’…A slight blow? NOT AT ALL (if anyone is ever angry that they see an understudy then they are not the sort of person whose opinion on theatre is one you’ll want to hear!)! Ashley Day really was incredible in the role of Elder Price! He was the perfect mix of cheesiness, Ken Doll-iness, and hilarity, and he really bought the role to life! For me the highlights of his performance included a HILARIOUS Spooky Mormon Hell Dream (he pretended to be hypnotised by the donuts and jumped around like a cat on a BBQ…I was in stitches), a really strong ‘I Believe’, and the most brilliant OTT emotive facial expressions, especially during ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ and ‘turn it off’. Jared Gertner gave an equally strong performance as Elder Cunningham. He was really endearing and adorable, with the best comedic timing! His ‘Man Up’ was stunning. A real showstopper to end the first act! Contrastingly, his performance in the “Breakup Scene” was really genuine and heartfelt (I felt myself welling up a little bit!). Of course, for me, ‘Baptise Me’ was his finest moment. The song is tricky…push it too far in one direction and it becomes over the top and farcical, push it too far in the other and it becomes creepy. But Jared Gertner and Alexia Khadime managed the strike the balance and the song was both hilarious and heartfelt (plus, if you have / will see the show with this current cast, listen out for Alexia’s growl…predominantly in the line ‘I’m wet with salvation!’ … WOW!) This brings me to Alexia. Another one of my favourite performers, Alexia gave a stunning performance as Nabalungi! She was so cute at the beginning, and her Sal tlay ka siti was so beautiful. I was instantly drawn to her as both a character and a talent. During the sad reprise of ‘Hasa Diga’ I was truly shaken, the song swelled with anger and disappointment, and in the following scenes you saw Nabalungi’s transformation from na├»ve young girl to strong disillusioned young woman. It was wonderful. And then we have Stephen Ashfield, playing the fan favourite character Elder McKinley! Ahhhhh, he is beautiful, and talented. I was in love with his Elder McKinley because he was so off the rails, barely keeping himself together. I was a bit scared for him to be honest! ‘Turn it off’ was stunning! ANOTHER show stopping number! My gosh was the quick change impressive. The audience loved it, I felt butterflies! THIS is why I love theatre. It was a magical moment, matched by Stephen Ashfield’s very strong vocals. Equally in ‘I Am Africa’ I was tickled by his hilarious facial expressions! (Just before he baptized the first villager (is it Mafala?) he looked over to the other Elders with a huge ‘OH MY GOSH…GUUUYYYYYSSSSS!!!) Look on his face before pulling himself together! Ach…He was brilliant (Can you tell…I’m a big fan!)

Terel Nugent played Mafala and he was hilarious! His scenes with Nabalungi were so lovely and toned back, while ‘Hasa Diga’ was CRAZY! If there were ever a moment in my life where I could say I *Ahem* “lost my shit” it would be at the swelling chorus of ‘Hasa Diga’ oh my gosh! (Well, that and the first time I saw ‘Loud as the hell you want’ from Avenue Q performed live, but that was more sheer disbelief than anything else!) But yes, I loved his Mafala, his comic timing was amazing!

I also have to talk about Hugo Harold-Harrison (with the greatest name EVER!) as Jesus/ Joseph Smith, because he was so great too! (He had a slight line flub “making the truth or not” which he covered so flawlessly that you’d never know, but at the stage door his disdain was obvious. Bless him!) His ‘You’re a dick’ line was brilliant, because it seemed so fresh! Meanwhile his Joseph Smith death was brilliantly cheesy too.

AND YES CHRIS JARMAN! He played General Butt Fucking Naked with such conviction that you could barely laugh at his ridiculous name. In fact, he was pretty scary. “I will get butt fucking naked…and do this!” was terrifying (wow, that guys brain! I mean…wow!) but he was such a sweetheart at the stage door! (Having lent my pen to a girl who didn’t have one so that he could sign her programme he gave it back to me and thanked me, then turned to my sister who has a beautiful silver patterned biro, and said ‘Well I can see why you didn’t want to lend that one out, it’s really nice!’ Awww!)

As for the ensemble… they were amazingly strong. The thing I love about the Book of Mormon ensemble it that they aren’t just a unit used to fill space and provide backing vocals, they all have individual characters and they all play their own part! I loved Ashley Samuels’ Doctor (‘blows my freaking/fucking mind…’ can sometimes go a bit crazy, but his was so controlled and awesome. Very impressive, with such a lovely voice!)

So yes. This is more of just a ‘Charlotte fangirls…’ review than anything, but the show was just so incredible! I can’t believe it’s over though, and needless to say I’ll be seeing it again as soon as possible! For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I advise you do! Don’t listen to what some people would have you believe…the show may be boundary pushing and at some points a bit racy and offensive, but my gosh does it have a great message, and the last song ‘tomorrow is a latter day’ really hammers that home!

Highlights of the show for me included-
The beautiful set design and lighting which you can truly appreciate when sitting in the audience! Even the curtain at the beginning was decorated gorgeously with a big blue sunset! And the starry sky during ‘Sal tlay Ka Siti’ gave the scene even more of a Disney Princess “I want…” feel than it already had! (also the starburst lights during ‘You and me (but mostly me)’, and the flashing after General BFN shoots that guy in the head!)

Okay so the songs were obviously amazing! (I was already a big Robert Lopez fan (Avenue Q ftw) but Trey Parker and Matt Stone were also involved, and despite the fact that I was never a South Park fan in the slightest, dare I say these three are a dream team!
ASHLEY DAY!!!!! What a star. In Spooky Mormon Hell Dream my love for his performance was solidified! He was hilarious!

…IN FACT, THE WHOLE CAST!!! Everyone was incredibly strong (as you would expect)but seriously, I can’t just single one person out! Everyone was amazing!
Joseph Smith American Moses. So Elder McKinley was just dancing along and then all of a sudden his face just dropped and I died. He mirrored the whole audience in that scene! Then by the end Elder Price had transitioned from disappointed and disgusted through bemused and finally he was just thoroughly entertained. He was laughing hysterically!

‘Hello…my name is-’ You sang it, didn’t you? Ahhh, THAT SONG is something else.

Verdict - 5 Stars