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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. Motoxdoc

    Even JFK wasn't immune to bouts of ignorance.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Adam Hawkes

      Tell me what is ignorant in anything he said.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  2. mmmm

    I think this book is stupit....because your making fun of alot of things which in that case does make other movie or t.v proudcers make the ppl who wrote this mad... think about it.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Steve

      WOW...think about this. Attend a grammar course.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  3. agehrw

    this was actually an ode to Mormonism. These two are fascinated by it and that's why they always use it in their material. They love Mormons and the majority of the audience for this show is Mormon. That's exactly what they said on their interview with the Daily Show.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  4. Sir Craig

    “Mormonism does seem exotic," (Richard Bushman) 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."

    "Exotic" may not be the word I would have used. "Unbelievable," perhaps.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  5. johnpaul

    the mormons are the largest group of bigots and racist. remember brandon davies?

    March 24, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • monet

      Nice mouth you sound soooooooooooooooooooooooooo intellegent! relax with your get f'ed verbage! It's alway's those with the least amount schooling who offer the lowest form of coversation, or maybe it's breeding???

      March 26, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  6. Jers

    So many of you are so cruel to one another on these forums – to what end? Why not do something more constructive with your energy than waste time on invective...

    March 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • johnpaul

      FK off!!

      March 24, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • LW

      Agree; these blogs are a good place to find mean-spirited, cold-hearted individuals who hide behind their keyboards and spew hurtful words. Good examples of how not to treat people in real life.

      March 24, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  7. Matt24

    Christ once taught to never cast your perils before swine. Please be respectful to the perils of faith of others beliefs. I would to hate to find myself ,with a sad realization, that I had become the swine.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Joseph Reilly

      The perils of other faiths mainly consist of taking and holding views and beliefs which are contrary to reality. If you think that showing disrespect for people who intentionally delude themselves qualifies one to be one of the swine, Gadarene or otherwise, before whom one ought not throw pearls, then you clearly have your priorities and quite possibly other things , as well, in the wrong place.

      March 24, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  8. Joseph Reilly

    Those who laugh have not yet heard the terrible news. Those who believe have not yet heard of critical thinking. Those who believe in mormonism have not yet heard of reality.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  9. johnpaul

    @truth. how many cousins do you have as wives?

    March 24, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • pk

      lol!!

      March 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  10. Kelly

    CNN, it's MATT Stone, not MARK Stone! Come on–that is a glaring error, and one of several I've seen on CNN just in the past few days.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  11. Mr. Boss

    Yea, but the thing that we have to remember is that Mormons believe in some pretty crazy stuff! (in my opinion at least)

    March 24, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  12. Joe

    Irreverence and obscenity is considered "progressing"? What a shame that there are no wholesome communities left.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • pk

      irreverence: showing a lack of respect for people or things that are generally taken seriously

      things that are outright wrong, such as the things that mormons believe, ought to be criticized.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Drew

      It seems to me that you both fail to understand the point of this sort of satire

      March 24, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  13. flint

    Obviously, Eddy, you have never watched South Park. Parker and Stone have taken broad and brave swats at Islam....as well as anything else that takes itself too seriously.......like you !

    March 24, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  14. peas&carrots

    Growing up I was amazed by the doctors, politicians, engineers, lawyers- some seriously brilliant people- who were Mormon. They believed "that stuff". And then I read the Book of Mormon. I am grateful every day of my life that I did.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  15. dude

    Surfer Dave, you are THE MAN! Wish I'd said it! Smith was twice convicted of counterfeiting before he turned to hucksterism. His "eyewitness" to the angel delivering the tablets later confessed to lying about it... yes, a story ripe for satire, indeed!!!!!

    March 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • DV

      Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • NoQuarter

      Too bad you don't know what you're talking about. I guess ignorance really is a safe harbor, in your case.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • knn

      Convicted of coutnerfeiting? Lied about the plates? Please provide your references. I'm waiting.

      March 25, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  16. Eddy

    I saw this link posted sometime ago, and I think it makes a perfect argument for those who actually KNOW that those who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons) strive to live their lives to a higher standard.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CHSVC2nAl8&w=640&h=360]

    March 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Molly

      I agree that there are some members of the Mormon faith who are great role models, but much of the church is converted, and there is no denying that those "pioneers" who traveled to Utah were not only led by a man who had tried various cons before and finally succeeded with the Mormon church, they were also fleeing from various towns where they had caused societal uproar.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • pk

      a higher standard? the mormon church was officially racist until 1978, and only changed it's stance for political and legal reasons. also, what about a higher standard of historical accuracy and truth? mormons believe the native americans are a lost tribe of israel? they believe things that are demonstrably untrue.

      i don't mean to offend if you or others are mormon, but my conscience and intellect demand that i contest the claims of mormons as models of truth or morality. as most religions, mormonism has caused much strife and promotes outright lies.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • knn

      Officially racist? I can't provide a perfect explanation for why blacks were denied the priesthood, but for us to be racist would imply that our actions despised a race. The gospel has always been offered to all races and no eternal blessings were ever denied blacks. Joseph Smith ordained a black man to the priesthood (Elijah Able) before God told him it was not time.

      The church since Joseph Smith's time was strongly anti-slavery, always has been.

      Jesus only took the gospel to the Jews; It wasn't until later (See Acts 10) that Peter received the revelation allowing him to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Restrictions on the priesthood are not new. This topic must be approached with an understanding that we do not fully understand God's ways.

      Priesthood once restricted? Yes. Racists? No, not collectively

      From the Book of Mormon:

      For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

      March 25, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  17. Jeff

    You will not find me voting a Mormon for President until the Mormon Church accepts responsibility for the Mountain Meadows Massacre on orders from Brigham Young to Isaac Haight and John D. Lee.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • dude

      Right on!

      March 24, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • flint

      If they were talking to God...wouldn't he have told them the massacre was wrong?

      March 24, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Emmy

      First off, I want to say that I understand your frustration with the Mormon faith. I am not a member, but I have done quite a bit of study and don't always agree with them. However, on this subject, I have a very strong opinion. Please read the whole article before replying with any nasty comments.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Meadows_massacre (I know it's wikipedia which is reportedly not always accurate, however, it was the most condensed version of my own research I could find and after thoroughly examining it, I didn't find anything untrue).

      Based on my research, I believe that Mormons have taken full responsibility for this tragedy and, even if they hadn't, you can't judge the current members by what previous members have done. Just like we can't judge the white Americans for what was done to the black Americans through history.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Jeff

      to Emmy – if the Pope can come out 2000 years later and say they were wrong about jews killing Jesus, the Mormons can come out say that Brigham Young gave the order to kill those settlers. Or provide scholars a chance to go into the Temple in Salt Lake to look at the archives, something the Mormon leadership has never allowed.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • knn

      The only way Brigham Young could have given "orders" was if he had a telephone. Mormons who know the story don't dispute that a few members of the church did something very wrong on that terrible day. But don't bring Brigham Young into it. Once he received notice of their intent to defend themselves, he sent a response back opposing their actions; by then it was too late. Communication was not fast in those days.

      March 25, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  18. Surfer Dave

    The Book of Mormon is a striking example of the saying "the paper never refused ink." This work of fiction should be found on the shelf next to Harry Potter and the likes.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Jeffrey Root

      as well as the bible

      March 24, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      If Harry Potter were advertised as the word of God, I might actually listen. It’s got a better message than any religious text I’ve ever encountered.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Emmy

      First off, I want to say that I understand your frustration with the Mormon faith. I am not a member, but I have done quite a bit of study and don't always agree with them. However, on this subject, I have a very strong opinion. Please read the whole article before replying with any nasty comments.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Meadows_massacre (I know it's wikipedia which is reportedly not always accurate, however, it was the most condensed version of my own research I could find and after thoroughly examining it, I didn't find anything untrue).

      Based on my research, I believe that Mormons have taken full responsibility for this tragedy and, even if they hadn't, you can't judge the current members by what previous members have done. Just like we can't judge the white Americans for what was done to the black Americans through history.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Emmy

      I'm sorry, I replied to the wrong post and I can't figure out how to delete my comment.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  19. Eddy

    Why don't these clowns make fun of Islam? Well, because if they did, they and their families would be possible targets of criminal behavior. So, it's OK, to make fun of a faith that they know nothing about, but are AFRAID, as little girls, to poke fun of the Muslims? Hmm... I forgot, Liberals are only "liberal" when they're happily safe in their little houses. Bunch of coward ignorants.

    I read most of these comments, and I guess it should surprise me to see so many Americans being so stupid and ignorant, but I'm surprised that in this day and age, there a're still so many ignorant Americans, no wonder people abroad laugh at us so much. Mediocrity and decadence are the new standards we aspire to here in America anymore, pathetic 😦

    March 24, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Laura

      They DID make fun of Islam. Refer to season 5 of south park, episode Super Best Friends. Also, refer to the episode Cartoon Wars, and then the 200th episode. The 200th episode was actually censored and banned because they DID make fun of Islam. AND if you read CNN, you would know that their lives were targeted, that the muslim was caught and found guilty, and is now in prison.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Drew

      They did make fun of Islam you idiot.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • DV

      Try watching the show...you probably wouldn't be so quick to call them "liberals". No one is safe.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • DoubltSalmon

      The comedian Dara O'briain once said "People will sometimes come up to me after shows and say 'you'll do jokes about catholicism, you'll do jokes about protestantism, but you won't do jokes about Islam'. And they're right, I don't do jokes about Islam. There are two very good reasons for this. 1: I don't know really know anything about Islam, and 2: neither do you. Even if I did my research and came up with the greatest Islam based jokes in the world, only a couple people in the entire audience would get it, but when I do something about christianity, they know what I'm talking about."

      March 24, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Ryan

      You obviously don't watch south park very much.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Sergio Casselli

      These guys didn't stand up against Islam or the Muslims, there was a character in a bear custom that supposedly said something about Mohammed, that was it. Two words, that it. Are you kidding me? That's how they defend free-speech? Give me a break, these guys are indeed a bunch of wussies.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Chris

      They do make fun of Islam, in their show, South Park. Not only do they make fun of Islam and Mormons, but practically every major religion that we see on a daily basis. They do not discriminate when they satirize anything, and have even been censored for trying to make sure everyone was the butt of one joke or another.There were two episodes back to back specifically criticizing the fact that Mohammed of Islam could not be targeted, which at the same time, made fun of him. Matt Stone and Trey Parker are the comic geniuses of the day, much in the line of a Mel Brooks type comedy, but with more intelligent humor. They many times do not demonstrate liberal views, but conservative ones, they take the common sense approach to politics that seems to make sense more so than not. If you would like to criticize artists that have demonstrated a level of creativity and social understanding that requires intelligence and common sense to grasp, then you have to be able to see beyond the fact that it is offensive to see why they wrote it like that.

      March 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • maconbraves

      Quite true. as I watch the Flash video advertisements ..

      March 24, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  20. Aloha611

    People who are different than me are so funny! I love making fun of people I disagree with. I'm so intelligent that any viewpoint that varies from my own is garbage, and fodder for satire.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • mike

      So you've seen the play? No? Keep your mouth shut, then.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • steven harnack

      Apparently you don't have a clue about what satire is or even have a sense of humor. Don't feel bad though, there is a cure. It's known as intelligence.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Hollywood Reporter

      Is this guy at the end of his Career? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3pFFW_NqNE

      March 24, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • DeathToChildren=)

      This is you aaron I know it hahahaahaha

      March 24, 2011 at 9:03 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.