Not since Chicago opened in the West End in 1997 has there been such a slick and sassy publicity campaign for a musical. The Book of Mormon has opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre with a smash-hit pedigree from Broadway, following a clever marketing campaign (including the use of quotes from Twitter), initially releasing limited allocations gradually, then selling over a record breaking £2 million of tickets the day after opening night. The price for a premium ticket for this show is now £125. So can this show – penned by Trey Parker and Robert Lopez (of South Park fame) and Matt Stone (of Avenue Q) live up to all the hype – and does it all really matter anyway?

This musical really isn’t for those who are easily offended. The mormons of the title get off remarkably well all things considered, as this show mocks more-or-less all religions for having to put faith in the unknown. The opening number – ‘Hello’ – is a joyous evocation of the technique of a number of religious groups of ‘knocking on doors’ to spread their message, with absolute split second timing. The most successful musical sequences in this show involve the Mormon boys – from ‘Two by Two’ where they all get paired off to different countries, to the sidesplitting ‘Turn It Off’ where Stephen Ashfield’s Elder McKinley shows the Mormons how to brush off unwanted urges. The most interesting aspect of the story centres around the differences in the two young Mormons sent to Uganda. Gavin Creel’s tall, slim and handsome Elder Price is paired with Jared Gertner’s shorter, geekier Elder Cunningham. Creel’s Price tries to convince himself that their assignation will be a success (‘You and Me, but Mostly Me’), although he would rather have been sent to Orlando. Gertner’s Cunningham finds his feet by the interval (with a showstopping ‘Man Up’) and becomes the first missionary to attract Ugandan converts, albeit even if he is creative with the content of the book in front of him.

Many of the scenes set in Uganda with the locals there descend into almost utter filth, with copious use of the ‘f’ word, the introduction of an African warlord in favour of female circumcision, and a hideous ‘solution’ to the AIDS problem by raping children. Things hit an all-time low in a ‘dream’ (nightmare?) sequence featuring Adolf Hitler boasting of how many deaths he has caused. Aside from all the outrageous, offensive satire here, there is an issue of structure as the show comes across as a succession of episodes or sketches, and some songs are extended for too long. There is an attempt to justify the content by concluding the story as a kind of moral tale, but this doesn’t really go far enough.

The Book of Mormon contains pastiches of various other musicals, notably Disney’s The Lion King, plus I spotted Wicked and Annie amongst others too. It’s a show that’s had both time and money thrown at it for its London premiere and has obvious appeal for fans of South Park style humour and those who usually wouldn’t necessarily go to see a musical. It’s well cast too. Alexia Khadime puts in a lovely turn as a young Ugandan girl, and both Kreel and Gertner excel as the two leads. In fact, the whole cast had been thoroughly drilled in a no doubt faithful recreation of the Broadway show for a British audience. The theatre erupted into a noisy standing ovation before the lead characters had set foot on stage for their final bow, but I remained rather unmoved by it all. Not (that) offended, just a little disengaged. Ah well, as Elder Cunningham reminds us frequently, ‘tomorrow is a latter day...’.