Posts Tagged ‘Gavin Creel’

I saw this show on Broadway 15 months ago (sorry about the location-dropping!) and was a bit underwhelmed. I enjoyed it, but didn’t think it lived up to the ‘best musical of this century’ hype. It had been running a year at that point. This London clone has been running three months and the first thing that struck me last night was how fresher it seemed – performed with more gusto, energy & enthusiasm.

I’ve never seen South Park or anything else by the show’s creators / writers, so I’m not pre-programmed to their humour. It’s a bit like those Seth Rogan / Judd Apatow films – trying a bit too hard to shock, pushing things a little too far on occasion, hilarious in parts but so relentless that it inevitably lags in others.

I probably don’t need to tell you that it’s about a bunch of newly graduated Mormon missionaries, two of which are sent to Uganda and fail miserably to meet their baptism targets. Most of the humour comes from the clash of cultures and it draws a fine line laughing with /at the Africans. It’s also taking big risks using AIDS (and possible cures) as the butt of a lot of its jokes, one of the things that for me went too far.

It sets up a pace that it’s difficult to sustain, so there are genuinely more laughs than almost any other musical comedy, but that has the effect of making the bits between the laughs seem a lot longer. The music seemed a lot better on second hearing, albeit most of it parodying the genre. It’s particularly good lyrically though. The design is (presumably) a bit of a parody too, but it also makes you smile.

It’s the performances that made this second showing for me. I’d seen and admired Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham on Broadway, but here he was better matched by Gavin Creel’s excellent Elder Price and surrounded by a better ensemble whose sense of fun was infectious. Stephen Ashfield seemed completely at home as Elder McKinley, Alexia Kadime was an excellent Nabulungi (is the running gag about her name new? I don’t remember it) and there were great turns from Giles Terera as Mafala Hatimbi and Chris Jarman as a positively terrifying General.

It is well worth seeing and it does add a lot to the musical comedy cannon (but not ‘most shocking’; a crown still held by Jerry Springer – The Opera). You’ll have a lot of fun as long as you don’t expect ‘the best musical of this century’.

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This is like time travelling back 43 years. The first ever alternative rock musical has become  a £65-a-go ride in the new hippie theme park! At least Daniel Kramer’s revival at the tiny Gate Theatre a few years back retained some sense of ‘alternative’ (though it has to be said this lot are easier on the eye – that’s the fringe for you!).  The anti-war message could and should mean something in these war-torn times, but is about as sincere as businesses going green because its cheaper.

This virtually plotless show has four songs which have now become standards (boy, doesn’t Good Morning Starshine sound twee?!) and another 2 hours of unmemorable undistinguished blandness. It only came alive briefly in the second act during the extended anti-war sequence, but the only purpose this show serves in 2010 is its part in the history of musical theatre.

Having said that, the staging is good (though I could have done with less ventures into the audience, which I’m sure went down a storm on Broadway but work less well with a more inhibited West End audience) and the musical standards are outstanding. I can’t comment on Will Swenson’s Berger because I got his rather weak understudy, but the rest of the leads were very good, particularly Gavin Creel’s Claude.

Go if you’re ‘collecting’ musicals or fancy an evening in one room of the museum of musical theatre, but please don’t expect anything ground-breaking, challenging, relevant or for that matter particularly entertaining. Like all museum exhibits, you look at them and learn but that’s about it.

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