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A guilty pleasure: Gavin Creel (centre) as Elder Price in "The Book of Mormon"

The Book of Mormon has descended on the West End with peerless publicity for a Broadway musical transfer, namely that it is spectacularly rude, very funny and completely unlike anything else on the British stage. It amply lives up to the billing.

A genetically-modified concoction of pantomime, parody, gospel music and divinity play put together by the founders of the dyspeptic TV cartoon South Park and composers of the Broadway hit Avenue Q, this does for Mormonism what Life of Brian did for Christianity, but with a lot more affection disguised beneath cheery mockery.

Gavin Creel is Elder Price, the incarnation of puffed-up self-believer in a straight line of descent from Gaston in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Jared Gertner co-stars as the comically sweaty Elder Cunningham in Klutz-mode reminiscent of Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters and Little Shop of Horrors. Off the luckless duo set to preach the teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in a conflict-torn village in Uganda, where Elder Cunningham adapts the golden tablets rather freely to win over desperate villagers and impress his love-interest Nabulungi (Alexia Khadime). 

The singing, dancing and general brio rarely falter. Khadime possesses an earthy chest voice loud enough to echo from the Prince of Wales Theatre in Piccadilly to Buckingham Palace: just one proof among many that this Sonia Friedman production has succeeded in weaving together the talents of the West End and Broadway into a slick, united, joyous cast.

With songs that take on the repressions of the Latter-Day Saints ("Switch it off" deals with inconvenient homosexual urges), and lines like "My sister was a dancer / Till she got cancer," guilty pleasure is the essence of The Book of Mormon. It has some frankly awful jokes about Aids, cliterodectomy and much worse, but this is humour thriving on transgression and the tantalising line between a belly-laugh and a wince. Judgment and a benevolent outlook save it from mere condescension. Besides laughing at the absurdities of the Mormon creed, we get a good poke at self-regarding do-gooders of all stripes: "I am Africa! / Just like Bono / I am Nelson Mandela's tears," sings one of the missionaries.

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