By Mark Kennedy, AP
NEW YORK–The seemingly unstoppable hit “The Book of Mormon” has broken another record — this time on the other side of the Atlantic.
The quirky, profane musical opened Thursday night to some critical bashing, but the next day earned the highest one-day gross in London theater history.
Between 10 a.m. and midnight Friday, 2.1 million pounds (US$3.2 million) was taken in at the box office, according to preliminary estimates. By comparison, the Broadway version only earned US$1.5 million the day after it opened to rapturous reviews. Finals numbers in London are expected overnight.
“London can be tough,” Scott Rudin, an influential theater and film producer who has steered “The Book of Mormon,” said by phone Friday night after flying back from England. “American musicals tend to get knocked in the teeth in London, by and large. It’s a tougher place.”
The show is now booked at the Prince of Wales Theatre until January, but Rudin predicts it may be in London for a long time to come.
To put the staggering one-day take in perspective, the highest single-week gross in the West End — from another Yankee show, “Wicked” — was just over 1 million pounds over nine productions during the final week of 2010.
“The Book of Mormon” by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” composer Robert Lopez tells the story of two Mormon missionaries sent to spread the word in Uganda.
In New York, “The Book of Mormon” won nine Tony Awards in 2011, including best musical. The show also won a Grammy Award and recouped its US$11.4 million capitalization after just nine months. It remains the toughest ticket to get on Broadway.
A production has opened in Chicago — it set a house record for the Bank of America Theatre and has been extended three times until September — and a national tour kicked off in August in Denver, where it has broken box office records as it crosses the country.
The tour is currently in Detroit — where it already has broken the Fisher Theatre’s house record for a standard eight-performance week — through the weekend, and then goes to Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.
In London, most critics praised the production’s skill and the English cast’s energy, though some were left uncharmed, including the Daily Mail critic, who “tired of it after 10 minutes.” The Guardian called it “mildly amusing.”
Rudin said despite some grousing by London critics, the crowds have been enthusiastic, particularly the English fans of “South Park.” Pent-up demand for the show has been roiling since the New York opening. And, unlike in New York, London audiences knew what to expect.
Though Rudin admits he was anxious in the days leading to the London opening, he recognized that the show’s humor — jokes about African dictatorships, AIDS and poverty — would translate.
“The story and humor of ‘The Book of Mormon’ is deeply influenced by Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” he said. “I knew that would work over there.”