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'Book of Mormon' opens on Broadway
March 24th, 2011
05:22 PM ET

'Book of Mormon' opens on Broadway

By Cassie Spodak, CNN

New York (CNN) - A new Broadway musical looks at religious faith and doubt with a healthy dose of imagination: the audience meets Jesus, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founder Joseph Smith, Satan, and an African warlord as well as Darth Vader, Yoda and two hobbits.

The production, called "The Book of Mormon," was written by "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, along with Robert Lopez, who wrote the Broadway hit "Avenue Q."

The creators have used music, irreverent comedy, and obscenity to tackle controversial subjects before, but they say their approach is new to Broadway musicals. The play opened to strong reviews Thursday night.

“Broadway, for so many years, was a very wholesome community,” Lopez told CNN. “As far as comedy, (Broadway) has not progressed as far as movies and TV (even though) there are no censors.”

Lopez met Stone and Parker after they saw "Avenue Q," which followed young puppets and humans living in a fictional New York as they dealt with careers, relationships, sex and the challenges of managing expectations.

When they asked him what he wanted to work on next, Lopez told them he was interested in doing a musical about Mormonism.

Stone and Parker were hooked. It was a subject they had explored in an episode of "South Park" - an animated adult show on Comedy Central that follows four elementary school kids and is known for crude language and satirical humor - and Mormonism held a special fascination for them.

Mormonism originated with Joseph Smith in upstate New York in the early 1800s. This not-so-distant past was attractive to the writers, Lopez told CNN, because they thought it added to the far-fetchedness of the religion's claims that God had anointed Smith as an American prophet.

“A prophet who lived thousands and thousands of years ago in the Middle East is veiled in antiquity,” said Lopez. “But a prophet finding God’s word on golden plates just a few hours drive from New York City is ripe for satire.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a brief statement about the musical. “The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening," it said, "but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”

Portrayals of Mormons or the LDS Church are abundant in pop culture today - from the HBO series "Big Love" to "South Park" - but the church usually stays out of these discussions.

The church has said objecting to such portrayals would only bring them more attention. But the strategy may also contribute to an aura of mystery around the religion.

Richard Bushman, a leading Mormon scholar, says the Mormon faith is an easy target for the entertainment industry.

“Mormonism does seem exotic," he said. "It’s exotic in its temple ceremonies, which are quite out of the ordinary, and it has its stories of angels and gold plates.

“That’s just part of being Mormon, that people will see these things as strange," said Bushman, who is Mormon. "The secrecy of the temple is critical to the temple. Mormons are trying to create a sacred space.”

"The Book of Mormon" follows two young Mormon men, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, as they set off to complete their required two years as missionaries for the church. One of them has dreams of being dispatched to Orlando, Florida, but they are instead sent to Uganda. Reality there is worlds away from Disney World.

But the setting sometime seems just as fantastical. The small village where the two missionaries are based is terrorized by an obscenely named warlord who directs female genital mutilation and murder.

The musical weaves back and forth from reality to fantasy, as the two protagonists encounter AIDS, rape, war and dysentery as well as musical numbers with Darth Vader, Yoda, Hitler, Genghis Khan, Frodo Baggins of "Lord of the Rings" and human-sized cups of coffee (which Mormons are not supposed to drink).

The sometimes incomprehensible nature of reality forces the young Mormons to question their faith and their purpose in life.

Elder Price begins the musical with a song about how his life has been leading up to this moment and about his desire to do something “incredible.” But the reality of the world around him defeats his optimism. Price succumbs to his doubts about faith and God after having the Book of Mormon stuck in a very uncomfortable part of his anatomy.

His companion, Elder Cunningham, begins to bring converts to the church as he elaborates on the original story of Joseph Smith with allusions to favorite science fiction stories.

Where Elder Price’s blind faith in God seems to have failed him, Elder Cunningham’s embellished stories begin to resonate with the villagers as he relates the Book of Mormon to medical issues and problems in their daily lives. But his fabrications inevitably get him in trouble.

Lopez, who was raised as a Catholic, says the focus on Mormonism was more a vehicle to talk about religion than a desire to ridicule one particular faith tradition.

“When you strip away the need to have scripture make literal sense and stop worrying about whether God exists somewhere, the miracle is that true religion reveals itself," he said. "It’s made up of these wacky stories, but it has a purpose and faith that there is really something good.”

“What’s powerful is not a magical mythical corporeal thing called God," he said. "It’s the power of these ideas, and the power of the trust, and the power of the musical. That’s where the true miracle is. And the result of the miracle is that people are good to each other.”

Graceann Bennett, a strategic planning director in the advertising industry who grew up Mormon, said she was pleasantly surprised by the musical, which she caught in preview.

What resonated with Bennett was how the musical focused on the core beliefs of Mormonism and not the fringe elements that often get more attention, like polygamy.

“They were making fun of things that were true, not things that weren’t true. It was done in a loving way,” she said.

But Bennett is sure that the musical will offend more religious Mormons.

“I think it’s just about how much blasphemous and irreverence you can handle,” she said.

Bennett also said the musical’s message reaches far beyond Mormonism, speaking to those who see religion as “giving people purpose in life, helping them be a better person.”

That pretty well sums up the play's ending, during which Elder Price realizes that the “incredible” he has been striving for can be found in the happiness and faith of the villagers around him - even if their understanding of the Book of Mormon has more to do with the Death Star than with upstate New York.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Culture & Science • Mormonism

soundoff (720 Responses)
  1. James Black

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]

    June 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  2. lucysky1

    I love you.. kindly visit the LDS official website to know more about Latter Day Saints LDS.ORG

    May 24, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  3. Steve

    Tell us more about the aliens – that's the best part!

    May 4, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  4. Chad Parker

    A pagan trying to teach Christians what religion and God is? How cute!

    May 4, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  5. Panic

    That play was great. It was one of the best plays I have seen in a while. I am not a real big South Park fan, however I highly recommend to anyone that want to laugh their butt cheeks off. Go see it $69- $240 a seat. I am going to go again.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  6. saulsky

    Mormons are such easy targets and I'm sure they did it well, but why don't we try a satire targeting Atheists for once. Maybe something like a couple of Atheists proselytizing door to door with one of the new Atheist Bibles that have just been published (The Good Book or 21st Century Testament). That could be very funny. Turn the tables for a change.

    April 7, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  7. Terry P

    The Book of Mormon – good for a doorstop. No matter what they say, they still practice Polygamy!

    April 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  8. Will

    The Mormon's own literature proclaims them to be "The Church of Satan". Mormon's are a gang of thugs in magic underwear! Illiteracy finances horrors!

    April 3, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  9. Fritz

    http://dogdays-phoenix.blogspot.com/

    Jesus has a facebook page

    March 30, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  10. Fritz

    http://dogdays-phoenix.blogspot.com/

    Here is Jesus' facebook page

    March 30, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  11. Ryan from SF

    Kudos to the charity work done by the Mormon church, however...

    Paul and the other apostles warned us to receive no other Gospel, testament, etc even if it was from an angel (Galatians 1:8). He said in 2 Thessalonians that people would believe a lie and be damned for not receiving a love for the truth. When Apostle John finished the Revelation this was the end of the written inspired word of God, period. That canon becomes the measuring stick for Christian character. Do prophets exist today, sure, but what they preach better line up with the foundation of what the original apostles preached else they are false.

    If Mormonism is correct then my questions are this: 1) do we have everything we need in the Bible without the Book of Mormon for salvation? 2) Temple traditions and secrecy have been done away in Christ, our bodies are the temple, not some building. 3) There is no scriptural standing for the planet Kolob and implying that God the Father had flesh is anti-scriptural, God is a Spirit (John 4:24). The only visible part of God you will ever see is Jesus Christ because in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (colossians 2:9). 4) Satan is an angelic being, Jesus is God, and humans are made in God's image, Jesus and Satan cannot be brothers, Jesus is before all things and made all things, including Lucifer. 5) There is no Bible basis for man becoming a God, no talk of having spirit babies or settling other planets. We do not know what eternity holds, only God. 6)No evidence for Jesus in America or that Independece, Missouri is going to be the site of the New Jerusalem either.

    I don't need to pray or ask God if the Book of Mormon is truth, because the scripture is complete without it. You might as well ask God to give you a lying spirit like he did to Ahab because when you pray recklessly like that you might get an answer but it won't be from God. Joseph Smith was a prophet alright, a false one. A half truth is worse than a whole lie, just enough Bible to make you believe an error.

    March 29, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  12. Ryan from SF

    Kudos to the charity work done by the Mormon church, however...

    Paul and the other apostles warned us to receive no other Gospel, testament, etc even if it was from an angel (Galatians 1:8). He said in 2 Thessalonians that people would believe a lie and be damned for not receiving a love for the truth. When Apostle John finished the Revelation this was the end of the written inspired word of God, period. That canon becomes the measuring stick for Christian character. Do prophets exist today, sure, but what they preach better line up with the foundation of what the original apostles preached else they are false.

    If Mormonism is correct then my questions are this: 1) do we have everything we need in the Bible without the Book of Mormon for salvation? 2) Temple traditions and secrecy have been done away in Christ, our bodies are the temple, not some building. 3) There is no scriptural standing for the planet Kolob and implying that God the Father had flesh is anti-scriptural, God is a Spirit (John 4:24). The only visible part of God you will ever see is Jesus Christ because in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (colossians 2:9). 4) Satan is an angelic being, Jesus is God, and humans are made in God's image, Jesus and Satan cannot be brothers, Jesus is before all things and made all things, including Lucifer. 5) There is no Bible basis for man becoming a God, no talk of having spirit babies or settling other planets. We do not know what eternity holds, only God. 6)No evidence for Jesus in America or that Independece, Missouri is going to be the site of the New Jerusalem either.

    I don't need to pray or ask God if the Book of Mormon is truth, because the scripture is complete without it. You might as well ask God to give you a lying spirit like he did to Ahab because when you pray recklessly like that you might get an answer but it won't be from God. Joseph Smith was a prophet alright, a false one. A half truth is worse than a whole lie, just enough Bible to make you believe an error.

    March 29, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • LDS_MAN

      I read you post and you are misinformed, try looking here http://www.lds.org and you will know more about Mormonism.

      April 1, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • Israel

      You made a lot of claims about things that can't be true but showed no evidence as to why. Most people thought the world was flat at one time without looking at the evidence to the contrary.

      April 1, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  13. susan

    I find it so amazing that we are insulting the Mormons, and thier Prophet, Joseph Smith, and we are all having a laugh on someone's sacred religion beliefs. I dare them to do a play on Prophet, Mohammed and insult the muslim faith, we would see blood in the streets because they are anything but a peaceful religion. the Latter Day Saints are very peaceful and loving and forgiving for the most part and are true followers of Jesus Christ, this play proves it, because they are being attacked because of thier beliefs and CNN isn't standing up for them, so that tells me it's true, if the PC crowd isn't standing up for this mormon religion and promoting them and doing all these great stories like they do the islam faiths then, I'm all that more sure that The Church of Jesus Christ is a true church of God all the more..

    March 27, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • LDS_MAN

      Amen Susan

      April 1, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • bo4610

      I must agree with you that these people will not dare make fun of Muslims or other beliefs because they know Muslims will fight back. I had been noticing that too,, these people keep attacking the Mormons because they know Mormons follow Christ's teaching "to give the other cheek". I don't know any other Christian churches that are being attacked in almost every font these days but the Mormon church. Makes me think of what the bible said "you will be persecuted in My name" hhmm

      May 24, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  14. glenn

    Read the book "No Man Knows My History" – it reports and you can decide. What is so sacred about temple rituals that were stolen from the Masonic Temple (Masons)? Why was Joseph Smith a martyr? As a Mason, did he just come up with some new temple rituals? Or did he design them from the Masons? Are the Native Americans really related to one of the Lost Tribes of Israel? Tell a Navajo that he is Jewish and see how far that conversation goes. Look, we can all be about "family" – but wrapping it up with a book that has "zero" references to our historical world (compare that the Bible actually lists places that are real). So let's all wake up today and enjoy a nice cup of tea or coffee with our "family". Any faith can embrace this except one – Mormonism.

    March 27, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • Israel

      First of all the no one claims the Native Americans to be the lost tribe of Israel. (please look up what are the lost tibes of Israel) Second, you contradict yourself with the Jewish people and the lost tribes of Israel.

      April 1, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • glenn

      Most Latter-day Saints have accepted the Book of Mormon based on what they feel about its message. Some now question the book because of what they know about its historical claims. Many are unsettled by the book’s portrayal of a dark, corrupted race and the doctrine that America is God’s promised land, issues that are reminiscent of the widespread prejudices of Joseph Smith’s time. After decades of Mormon and non-Mormon academic research and LDS apologetics, the rank-and-file are beginning to find themselves faced with the fact that these Israelites made no discernable contribution to the gene pool of native peoples, either on the continent or across the expanse of Polynesia. Many Latter-day Saints, discovering this for the first time, are disquieted by how far the Book of Mormon is from reality, as well as by how far the apologists have strayed from traditional Mormon beliefs. (200)

      April 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  15. kevin conway

    It's a damn play nutballs. Get a life or an eighth wife or new underwear or whatever it is this century. Live with it. It's a play.

    March 27, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  16. Rory

    Although this article intrigued me, I found my self less and less interested in its content as I read. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and having served a full time mission myself, I find this play a sad attempt to inform people of history. Satire should never be taken seriously, and misrepresentation alway ensues. This kind of satire can never give due respect to any subject matter when presented in an environment or spirit of mocking. I'm sure anyone that has studied anything worth learning would agree.

    Misrepresentation in the case of Mormonism seems to a constant and has been since it was established in New York, 1830. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who choose to be offended, I say this to you: Knock it off. This is nothing new. There have been much much worse. If you dislike this play, don't see it. Also, for those members who choose to bash and argue on comment boards for EVRYONE to read: remember who you are.

    To receive the best kind of information, one must study things for themselves from the source. It's easy to do. Go o http://www.lds.org.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  17. Evelyn

    This makes me so sad. Why do people think it's so funny to make fun of another person's faith? Faith is precious and personal, not something to mock.

    March 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  18. Dustwoman

    A chuckle about apparent "quirks" within a religion shouldn't be a problem. However, hate and discrimination based on religious preferences defies all reason. Not every religion is right for everyone, that is why the USA doesn't have a national religion.

    If a religion, at its most fundamental, promotes love of your fellow man, why should it be condemned? Any deviation from that falls on the individual and a religion should not take the fall for an individual's personal failures.

    March 26, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  19. Tim

    Why do the Political Correctness police always attack and ridicule religious faith? Pathetic stuff. What about attacking a left-wing 'scared cow'? Now THAT would be shocking – and it would never happen.

    March 26, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Hawaiikaos

      What's a 'scared cow'? Does that have anything to do with chupacapbras or bloodsucking aliens?

      March 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • matt d

      i assure you, south park has attacked many a sacred cow of the left and the right

      March 29, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • bo4610

      @ Matt, then why not south park attack Muslims,, or maybe you,, let's see what will happen.

      May 24, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  20. Pittsburgh, PA

    I was born and raised a LDS, I am currenlty 41. I normally do not read negative writings about the church. I investigated the truths of the church and read non LDS writings in my 20's, wondering if how I was raised, regarding the church, was true. I found, by studying non LDS writings, that I don't know where I would be without a loving family that raised me in the Church. I only hope that many others can experience the same. Such as, no alcoholic Father/Mother, no divorce of Father/Mother, no physical/mental abuse, spending time as a family and still be just as close now. I have one sibling, yes only 1. He is not acitve ( I just became active) in the Church but lives a 1/4 mile away, my Parents live 50 yards away. The LDS religion is about Family, that is the core. Those of you that want to make fun, I am sorry. But, please investigate further and get to know the people a little better.

    I am asking those that are LDS on this blog; please do not go back and forth and argue. You are only feeding the negativity of this production. It is not for us. Spend your time teaching, not preaching. Thank you.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • B

      I also was born and raised LDS My parents were too, and we grew up with physical and emotional abuse. My father had affairs, my mother became an alcoholic. My parents divorced and my brothers and sisters are atheist now. I used to think my family was the odd one, I learned as an adult that this is way more common than one in the church wants to believe. Things are just as bad in the church as out. The church doesn't MAKE a happy unbroken home. Kudos to God, your parents and the gospel, not the church.Every person makes their own decisions.

      March 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Skeptic

      I was born and raised Catholic–in a very close family. Our time was spent with cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. That has nothing to do with LDS. It has to do with individuals. My husband and I are not religious, I having left the Church because of my disagreement with its policies on birth control. Nevertheless, we raised our children lovingly, with emphasis on family ties and stability.
      I am happy for your family ties and closeness, but please don't conflate that with religious doctrine. I rejoice in my own family ties and closeness, but believe that religion is not necessary or even beneficial for this status.

      March 26, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.