The Book of Mormon is the most potentially offensive show I have ever seen - but it really is wonderful.
Written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, who also brought us South Park and Avenue Q, it is hardly surprising that political correctness isn't a priority. The story tells of two young Mormons, Elders Price and Cunningham, who travel to Uganda to change the world through missionary work.
However, the locals are initially less than enthusiastic about the Mormons' ideas, feeling their own catchy creed dismissing God is a fair response to AIDS, female circumcision and the village doctor having maggots in his scrotum - all this being presented in a number which sounds fantastically like The Lion King.
Despite Elder Cunningham being in turbulent political circumstances and the fact that he has never read The Book of Mormon - it is, he says, so boring - he does ultimately achieve remarkable success in baptising his new friend Nabulungi's fellow villagers, winning them over with unique parables from Star Wars and Trek, The Lord of the Rings and heartfelt assurances that his book actually is pertinent to their problems, as "Back then people had even worse AIDS". He also mispronounces Nabulungi's name as "Nutella", "Narcolepsy", "Necrophilia" and "Nala" along the way.
The cast are truly excellent; Gavin Creel as Elder Price is hysterically funny in his sophisticated treatment of the material, providing some of the more cutting witticisms. His rendition of "I Believe" was outstanding. Jared Gertner shines as juvenile, rather endearing Cunningham, giggling at the naughty words and drinking from a juice carton proffered by his mother. Alexia Khadime is as funny and vocally wow-inducing as ever, and Stephen Ashfield plays the sexually repressed Elder McKinley with tremendous flair and indecent enthusiasm - his "hetero side just won!" The ensemble numbers are quite wonderful: a formidably talented bunch all round.
Lopez, Parker and Stone's music often sends up other shows', to the point that you sometimes expect proceedings to be ceased by a lawsuit, but the team have created some intricate music, always aptly articulating the usually ironic thought. Perhaps because all three are responsible for music, book and lyrics, there's a real understanding of what makes good comedy. Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker's direction cannot be faulted. Similarly tongue-in-cheek is Nicholaw's stylistically appropriate, witty choreography, which is also technically demanding and excellently performed.
That said - nay, raved - just because something is really funnily presented, does it make it right to laugh at real world issues? This writing is more sophisticated than Team America's tasteless rendition of "Everyone Has AIDS", but the audience still sit in their expensive seats laughing at jokes about current problems. Act 1 left me incensed that a plot about female circumcision had a place in a comedy. So, while lots of plays are not for the easily offended, Mormon absolutely isn't. It does, however, remain a tremendous achievement in theatre. Perhaps some sort of charitable collection could soften the insensitive blow.
As hyped up as Mormon has been, it really is by far the best musical I have seen in some time. Do hurry to get tickets, but it'll probably be around for long enough that there's no real urgency.
The Book of Mormon is at the Prince of Wales Theatre and is currently accepting bookings into January 2014.