‘Mormon’ Gets Mixed Reaction in U.K.: Review of Reviews

“The Book of Mormon” has had a mixed reception from the London critics.

While the production is sold out until June, the lukewarm critical reaction contrasts with the glowing reception in New York, where it has won nine Tony Awards and a Grammy. Here are some of the review comments, including the Sunday newspapers.

Charles Spencer, The Telegraph:

While acknowledging that it is often damnably clever and sharp, I find it hard to warm to the show.

For a start, mocking the Mormons and their bizarre belief system is the softest of targets. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is unlikely to dispatch suicide bombers into the theatre, and indeed their response to the piece has been remarkably tolerant and good-humored.

The American actors Gavin Creel and Gared Gertner make a cracking double act as the mismatched missionaries but “The Book of Mormon” strikes me as a decadent and self-indulgent musical, and its mixture of satire and syrup ultimately proves repellent.

I am the first to concede however that this is likely to be a minority view.

Rating: ***.

Christopher Hart, Sunday Times

It’s not razor-sharp satire: it’s about as sharp as a Krispy Kreme donut. The term “burlesque” might apply. It’s tasteless and infantile, but if you don’t mind all that, then it should still entertain you for an evening.

Rating: ***.

Michael Billington, The Guardian:

Strip away all the hype surrounding this hit Broadway import and what do you find? A mildly amusing musical, with some knowingly parodic songs, that takes a few pot shots at religious credulity without ever questioning the need for belief. I had a perfectly pleasant time, but the idea that the show, which won nine Tony awards, is either daringly offensive or a Broadway breakthrough is pure codswallop.

You can’t be Swift and Pollyanna at the same time. And, while the show has a few sardonic things to say about our capacity for credulity, the biggest myth of all is that it’s somehow a landmark American musical.

Rating: ***.

Libby Purves, The Times:

This one, beneath its jollity, is morally null and -- without seeming to notice it -- pretty racist. Or, at least, colonialist: classic 1920s in its attitude to village Africans.

Rating: ***.

Warwick Thompson, Bloomberg News:

Satire, of the super-sized variety, is the name of the game.

Musicals themselves are parodied for their emotional banality, with plenty of obvious potshots at “The Lion King,” “The King and I,” “The Sound of Music” and “Annie.”

The musical style pastiches Broadway’s golden era, with Africans singing an upbeat chorus about AIDS, poverty, misogyny, and forced female genital mutilation.

Phew, that’s a lot of satire: religion, colonialism, racism, musicals, and superstition. It’s known as a scatter-gun approach. Only here the gentle bullets float past and land with little dusty plops somewhere out of sight.

Rating: **½.

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail:

Its satire is insistently U.S. college-campus adolescent. I tired of it after ten minutes.

The comedy aims for the razzle-dazzle of “The Producers” and the sacrilege of “The Life of Brian.” It is at least two divisions below those two classics.

This is a cowardly, coarse, cynical show, worth avoiding.

Julie Carpenter, Daily Express:

I’m not sure its crude yet clever package is roll-in-the-aisles funny but it’s deliciously entertaining and there is certainly nothing like it in the West End.

It’s as feel-good as it is foul-mouthed and as infectiously uplifting as it is stingingly satirical.

Is it as filthy and offensive as its reputation suggests? In places, yes. From jokes about religion and rape (as well as Bono and Starbucks) to pinpointing where one particular Bible gets shoved, this is not wholesome family fare.

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard:

At its best, “The Book of Mormon” is indecently funny. It often makes you want to grimace or gnaw your fist, but there are bursts of brilliant comedy, and it’s hard not to be swept along by its joie de vivre.

Rating: ****.

Euan Ferguson, The Observer:

If you’re lucky enough to somehow have a ticket for this, the most cryingly good night out to have come along for years, and are by any chance looking forward to a smug few British-liberal hours sneering at the mad imbecilities of self-righteous Americans and organized religion, I have to tell you that you’ll be disappointed. “The Book of Mormon” is far, far cleverer, far kinder, far more nuanced than that.

Kate Bassett, Independent on Sunday:

Obviously not for the pious, the show is splattered with four-letter words and almost begs to be branded offensive. That said, the satire is rarely scorching. Rating: ****.

Paul Taylor, The Independent:

So does it live up to the hype?

Could anything? Put it this way. I absolutely loved it -- albeit slightly guiltily. Directed with terrific zap and zestful precision by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, the show thwacks together a caricature-tendentious view of modern Mormon masculinity with a calculatedly outrageous Lion King-skewed view of Africa.

Rating: ****.

“The Book of Mormon” is at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Coventry St, London W1D 6AS. Tickets are available from June onwards, or call the box office for returns. Information: http://www.bookofmormonlondon.com or +44-844-482-5110 or http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk

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