Tuesday, 26 February 2013

I Believe! Book of Mormon London 1ST Preview



Last night I saw the first preview of BOM in London, I planned to write this blog immediately after but it left me so blown away that it's taken me a few hours to get my thoughts together.

Let me start by saying that I'm a massive musical theatre fan, not listening to the soundtrack, not watching youtube videos, not succumbing to the badly recorded pirate video was possibly the greatest example of self control I can cite for my life thus far. If you are a fan of musicals and you're going to see this show I would advise you to do the same, avoid anything that could contain spoilers as half the laughs are in the songs and if you listen to the soundtrack in advance then it won't be so darn funny!

The producers of this show know what they are doing, I think this is the first time I have ever seen a show promoted in the UK that has embraced social media in such a successful way. By that I mean that the whole furore this first preview caused in the first place further solidified the hype around what is already a massive word of mouth success. This will survive as a word of twitter hit and the producers are fully aware of this.  I am a die-hard day seater and was outraged, almost to the point of strongly worded letter writing when I heard that instead of day seats (the earlier you get there the more you want it!) BOM will operate a NY style lottery system (blind luck). So you can imagine my excitement when I first heard that tickets would be sold for £20 for the whole house , finally a chance to prove my dedication by standing in the cold with fellow oddballs! I made sure I was near the front of the line, arriving at 8, even then they were tweeting and posting photos of us online. Last night was no different, some people arrived at mid day to have their pick of the unallocated house! I am a Brit and like my fellow countrymen I like to queue! For the second queuing experience I arrived at 5.30 and had great fun watching the raffle as the 'resting' actors working for the theatre ran excitedly up and down the growing line with megaphones giving out T-shirts. We even had the fun of a protest to watch!

This brings me to a point that I think will come up a lot in the reviews for this.  In the UK, BOM is post-Jerry Springer The Opera. Broadway never quite managed to get a run of Jerry, they had a concert version but for the average Broadway patron it will have passed them by. However we did the whole swearing outrageously and poking fun at religion in song ten years ago. When Jerry came out we also did the outraged religious people protesting on the street outside the theatre thing too, which is why I wasn't surprised to see a crowd of protesters sticking up posters and handing out leaflets last night. I naturally assumed they were Mormons, objecting to being ridiculed but when I received a flyer was amused to see that these protestors were anti-mormon and wanted to highlight the stupidity and evils of the religion (http://www.message4mormons.org.uk/). I don't think they had done their homework on the show, anyone leaving the musical and looking to sign up to Mormonism wouldn't be the sharpest steak knife in the drawer. Fair enough maybe the show makes a sinister cultish organised religoin look harmless and cute but it certainly doesn't portray it as credible and therefore did a better job than the crudely photocopied article these guys gave me.

So when the doors opened everyone rushed in, the atmosphere was incredible, my expertise and spare time dedicated to queuing ensured me the perfect seat about 5 rows back and in the centre. When the lights went down the audience went wild. Matt Stone, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Casey Nicholaw then came on stage and thanked everyone for coming,  Trey Parker did the talking and introduced the team. The audience was insane, the whooping and cheering was like a football match. The creatives were then taken to their seats, Casey Nicholaw was afforded a lovely view of the back of my head and then it began!

The cast are phenomenal, here we have the fantastic Gavin Greel, last seen in Hair who is outstanding in the role of Elder Price. Jared Gertner puts in a star making performance, if only there were more roles suitable in the MT Cannon for a chubby, awkward romantic lead! I was really pleased to see Giles Terera in it, he was brilliant in the original London Avenue Q and a fantastic Sammy Davis JR in the Rat Pack. I'd say my personal favorite performance came from Stephen Ashfield as Elder McKinley, Ashfield cementing his place as one of London's finest performers. I could go on all day pointing out cast members who excelled but really they were all outstanding. The cast is large and excellent although I imagine white female actresses will be jealous there are no roles for them.

This musical succeeds by not only being an opportunity to engage in sick jokes and toilet humor but by also conveying a very important message. It powerfully hammers home the plight of Africa without any sense of pompous first world righteousness and is absolutely a love letter to the musical. It achieves the impossible, to be utterly irreverent but at the same time totally inoffensive, it cover's it's back at every turn! I'd take my grandmother to see this show and she would probably love it. Where Jerry could sometimes come across as a bitter satire, this is an earnest romp.

The highlight of the show for me was probably the set piece 'turn it off' which achieves a fantastic coup-de-theatre by fully utilizing the lighting desk at one point. The success of this show is the unity of all the elements, no doubt Nicholaw and Lopez are as much a part of that as Stone and Parker, and the lighting designer etc. The choreographed in-jokes to other musicals were a fantastic follow on from The Drowsy Chaperone and Spamalot and went straight over the head of my non musical loving friends. These were so subtle that at points I wondered if I was reading too much into them I spotted Les Mis, Fela, West Side Story, JCS, Rock of ages, Lion King, King and I (were the steam jets in Man up a nod to Jerry?).

It's been credited in the states as the resurrection of the Musical, I don't know if I can agree with that, it's more a maturing of the Jerry style fringe success that has always lurked on the outskirts of London and Edinburgh. Overall I think this will be the biggest USA transfer since the Lion King, maybe not the big shock it was across the pond because we are more used to this kind of pop-fiction-taboo but because of it's big set pieces and infectious moral code it will speak to the Brit's every bit as much as the Yanks! Plus it's just bloody hilarious!

Congratulations to the creatives and to the Producers who even on the way out gave us a card with the hashtag LoveMormon. Welcome to the modern age!

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