Tag Archives: Steven Webb

“The Book of Mormon” at the Prince of Wales Theatre

Being both outrageous and mainstream is tricky. While there are lots of musicals that challenge an audience, few have had the success of this show from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. But after the hype, and coming up to a decade playing in London, is The Book of Mormon still risqué?

Never fear, a show about religion, with jokes about Aids, still has the potential to offend… if that is what you want. The representation of Africa, where the Mormon missionaries we follow end up, wants to be controversial. And the show is aggressively sceptical about faith. The cynicism has always struck me as contrived. And the humour is puerile, no matter how clever its creators. But embrace the tastelessness and you’ll love it.

Even if the crudity is too much for you, it’s well done – a cartoonish design from Scott Pask, perfect for tableaux explaining Mormonism, is indicative of the strong production. Yes, even the set gets laughs.

Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography are action packed – the show doesn’t settle for a second. The performances are full of energy, too. If the characters that we come to know are few (and caricatured), they are depicted well. With the two male leads, Dom Simpson’s strong voice is complemented by Tom Xander’s comedy skills. Steven Webb’s smaller role as Elder McKinley proves a crowd pleaser. And. although the role of Nabulungi is particularly unforgiving – it’s downright odd, nowadays, to see a female lead so passive – Leanne Robinson does a great job.

The performers and Nicholaw appreciate how the songs drive narrative in a traditional manner. This is one of many smart moves from Parker, Lopez and Stone, and the score has gently grown on me as a result.

Gentle is an odd word for a show that that revels in offending. The Book of Mormon takes a harsh look at faith and human nature: attempts to do good don’t work out. The pastiche soundtrack comments on this – that’s the joke, of course – but the songs also add balance and… warmth. Mimicking big musical numbers – both peppy and inspirational – gets laughs. But the tunes are still perky and moving. There’s the question of atmosphere, too, as the show has many return fans. Being in a room where people know the jokes takes some sting from a punchline, but it’s also a boon. Time for another surprising word – The Book of Mormon turns out to be a charmer.


Photo by Johan Persson

“Quasimodo” at the King’s Head Theatre

London’s excellent fringe theatres often afford the chance to see hidden gems and curios: seldom-performed pieces, which can catch on with many or fascinate the aficionado. Quasimodo, by Lionel Bart, receiving its premier 50 years after it was first written, falls into the later category.

The musical, which has only been workshopped until now, has parallels with another beauty-and-beast show, The Phantom of the Opera, and various adaptations of French epics, including another of the iconic Victor Hugo story, Notre Dame de Paris, that have proved successful. But Bart’s was a project that never took off, so all credit to the talented director Robert Chevara for finally bringing it to the stage. It’s a shame that Quasimodo will really only interest those mad for musicals.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the source or the book, which has been shaped by Chris Bond and Chevara into a slick work full of neat parallels, satisfyingly far removed from anything reminiscent of Disney’s 1996 film. Just as much the story of the beautiful Esmeralda, who inspires the passion of nearly everyone on stage, it’s ambitious and engaging. Bringing to the fore the theme of sexual anxiety, with Quasimodo as an understandably confused young man, is brave and bold. Chevara’s central performers explore the themes well; Zoë George is a vulnerable orphan willing to hone her feminine wiles and the excellent Steven Webb plays the crippled campanologist with charm.

Chevara’s production is at its best in its darkest scenes, there are moments when you suspect he’s onto something, but the humour in the piece rings like a cracked bell and proves distracting. Performances from the supporting cast could be pared back. The set by Christopher Hone is a good idea but sellotaped cobwebs give an amateurish feel, and the costumes, with their mismatched styles, misfire.

While the band do their best, you can hear the score crying out for more – this music needs a big sound in order to be judged properly, especially the choruses. But this is not the late, often great, Lionel Bart’s finest writing, the lyrics are unimaginative and the tunes simply not memorable enough. Ultimately that, rather than any battle of Quasimodo’s, is the tragedy of the piece.

Until 13 April 2013


Photo by Francis Loney

Written 25 March 2013 for The London Magazine