Matt Stone, Trey Parker and their retirement fund
Last January I booked the most expensive theatre tickets of my life: £200 for two centre stall front row seats to see The Book of Mormon which is currently on in London. I usually don’t like musicals much, except perhaps for the classics such as West Side Story; but having been a fan of South Park since its first year I had no choice in the matter really. After a five month wait both my companion and I made our way to the Prince of Wales Theatre near Leicester Square to see what the hype was all about.
Prior to our visit we managed to hear and read as little as possible about the show, apart from the unavoidable exposure to the blanket PR campaign which claims that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have ‘reinvented’ the musical. I thought they had already done that with South Park, Bigger Longer and Uncut, but never mind – PR is PR is PR.
What to say about the show itself: The Mormons, seemingly a perennial favourite of Parker and Stone and here the story of two young Elders takes centre stage. They are placed in Uganda to convert locals. This is quite similar to when Cartman goes to Africa in the first season episode Starvin’ Marvin. Fun complications soon ensue. Unfortunately, the whole story feels a bit too much like a South Park episode, with all the rude bits taken or ironed out.
Technically, the show ticks along like clockwork, with the charm of the same. TBoM has been turned into a derivative franchise (the Broadway version premiered in 2011) and as such, the costumes, the set and props scream of micromanaged prescription.
The cast was lovable and very much into it; given that getting a part for the hot ticket show currently on stage this doesn’t come as a surprise, either. Led by former NY cast standins, the ensemble belts out their songs with gusto and panache – and add life to the play.
Which, unfortunately, it surely needs. The whole product (that’s what it really is) feels overproduced, a bit like an idea for a South Park episode stretched over two hours. Have Parker and Stone reinvented the musical? No, The Book of Mormons is as conventional as can be. That silly Webber concoction of 1980s, Cats contained more innovation, and the music – well to put it lightly, I wouldn’t buy the soundtrack. Whilst I can still hum the Blame Canada song from Bigger Longer and Uncut, I can’t recall a single melody from Book of Mormon – the only slightly memorable number is the opening song, but in a fuzzy way – couldn’t hum that in the shower either.
I’m not sure what Parker and Stone are up to, but my guess is that TBoM is their retirement fund, and I wouldn’t hold it against them. After all, they are the only succinct satirists coming out of the US today; and like anyone else in their league they are going to need a few million bob once South Park draws to a close (which I hope is a long way off).
Creatively speaking, their real reinvention of the musical was Bigger Longer and Uncut. The Book of Mormon is an energetic pastiche containing half hearted comedy, aimed at wealthy folks who have to keep up with the Jones’ by competitively getting tickets. I’m sure there will be a movie one day, and loads of franchise productions from Vienna to Tokyo. Another indication for how tame the whole thing really is is that the Mormon Organisation themselves have endorsed the musical (and even placed ads in the programme).
If you have some spare cash and the patience required to obtain a ticket, by all means go and see The Book of Mormon. I, for one, am going to stick to what Parker and Stone do best – keep following their stories about Cartman, Kenny, Kyle and Comapny.