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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. Reality

    Bring it on!! Joe Smith and his horn-blowing angel Moroni "satired"!! Priceless!!! Hopefully, the music is great for the story-line is pure SNL!!!

    Some other names come to mind:

    Book of Cons?

    T-ithes to Heaven?

    Desserts and Deseret?

    The Romney Express?

    $'s, Prophets and Tabernacle Choirs?

    Add to the list. The person with the winning ti-tle gets a free trip to the Comoros islands with a week in Moroni, the capital city.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Drew

      I don't think that is really what matt and trey are getting at with this musical. In fact, South Park ridicules shallow atheists like you as often as it does religions

      March 25, 2011 at 2:40 am |
  2. blackarroque

    I have always failed to even begin to comprehend how people who are otherwise normal in every respect believe an emotional experience trumps proven (or disproved) reality.
    No disrespect, but how do their brains not split in half?

    March 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • Q

      Doublethink...

      March 24, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Drew

      I fail to understand how seemingly intelligent people believe that reality is only objective or scientific; what we feel is just as real as empirical data, and with recent breakthroughs in quantum we don't even know how real that is

      March 25, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • jamesMarshamelski

      yes, but sensible people know what reality isn't.

      March 25, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  3. Colby C.

    I feel that all of the Mormons that are "outraged" by this play should cool off. I have a ton of friends that are Mormon, although I am not one myself, and I do give them a hard time. But they give me hard times about my beliefs, actions, and thoughts as well. Someone will always have something to say about something, and people need to stop taking such offense to it. Many races, religions, and other characteristics of people have been and will be made fun of, so stop griping and learn to laugh. As Jesus said, turn the other cheek.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  4. mexicanHater

    Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world,
    just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.
    karl marx

    March 24, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  5. Kaylee

    I am lds and did not get married in the temple. If you brake your promises why would you expect god to keep his? I am happy I have waited to go to the temple in tell I'm ready.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • flutiefan

      you're married? you sound like a child with your sentence structure, grammar, and spelling errors.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • LDS_MAN

      Hey flutiefan, Its called SYNTAX...

      April 1, 2011 at 3:56 am |
    • Maybe

      LDS_MAN

      "Its called SYNTAX..."

      No, it isn't. Besides, do you think that dopey Kaylee would know what syntax is?

      April 1, 2011 at 4:02 am |
  6. UofUrocks

    Highest rate of white collar crime and fraud is PROVO UT. Home of BYU Most of your snake oil sham salesman, Provo companys and Mormon. Medicare fraud, Mormon Drs.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Ocss

      U of U.....a constant black eye for the state of Utah.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Dave

      If this is true, it shows that individuals in Provo (even Mormons) need Christ just like everyone else does.

      March 25, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  7. Clayton

    Oh noz, someone made fun of religion! It's the end of the world now ladies and gentlemen!

    March 24, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  8. True Blue Too

    I find this To be a huge disgrace to Broadway ....... as well as a huge mockery of god and the sacredness of the gospel.

    The beauty of america is free speach and the southpark boys have a right to say what they want to...... But I believe we will all be judged at some point along the line and it is my opinion that they are setting themselves up for failure.

    It will be one of the most interesting aspects of the atonement of Christ when they stand before him with a true understanding of what they have done, and to see the tears on their face as Christ forgives them for their sins.

    Whether or not you believe in the prophet Joseph Smith, the gospel of Christ is true, He never teach to discriminate or mock the beliefs of others.

    To any of those out there who feel they have been offended by the Mormons, I apologize, the members of the church are not perfect. Our society is not perfect, but on the whole the gospel is perfect and the purpose of our religion is to come closer to Christ through love and service.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • rafael

      You sound so wise and knowing

      March 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  9. Daniel

    Is God the Father not the father of all? That kind of makes Lucifer God's son too. Last I checked, all son's of the same father are brothers.

    Unless of course you believe the devil is completely unrelated to God, in which case God must now be renamed the "Father of most"

    March 24, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • flutiefan

      love it! logic!

      March 24, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  10. Brett Monson

    I'm a Mormon from Provo Utah and I find it hilarious reading these comments. People are taking too much offense and some people are out of hand here. Lets not shove religion down each others throats and focus on what is happening in the world right now. Do we forget about all of the disasters that are going on around us? Why is this a top story on CNN? Nothing more important in the world right now? I get a good laugh at South Park and was never offended at what they say about our religion. They poke fun at every religion, celebrity, and topic out there. Do people really believe the messages that they are teaching? I hope not. I'm no fanatic in my own religion, and I never force anyone to believe what I believe in. Explore the world, help others, find joy in nature, search out religion if you want, create something good, live a quiet life, play music, and just be a positive person. Too much negativity in this world and it isn't helping anything. We need to look for the positive right now, and stop with this hatred

    March 24, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • e2lean

      I agree with you Brett Monson. I used to be Mormon and I will never go back but it's nice when people are a little hummble about there religion and not shoving it down other peoples throats. I have nothing negative to say about the church but I DON"T care to hear the neagtivity from the people who are believers and SAY they aren't judegmental.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • sito1012

      Hey Brett, can you tall me what your or the other LDS churches have done for the disasters?? gimme a dollar amount?? gimme somthing?? Oh I guess most of them are not LDS so F them right?? I guess your 10% is being put to better use!

      March 25, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Marshall

      Brett, check out http://mormonchurch.org/tag/church-humanitarian for background on LDS church humanitarian aid for members and non mormons alike. Homeless shelters built, Cholera clinics in Papua New Guinea, Operation Smile for cleft palets, aid to Pakistan (obviously not many Mormons there).

      Since 1985 the LDS Church has given $327.6 Million in cash donations and $884.6 Million in material donations for humanitarian aid around the world. The Church provides aid for relief and development projects, immediate and long-term disaster relief, and ongoing projects, such as neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment, and measles vaccinations. The Church often pairs with other charitable organizations to expedite its relief efforts.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • LDS_MAN

      Hey sito1012 check this out for humanitarian aid.... http://newsroom.lds.org/article/church-providing-relief-to-hurricane-katrina-victims

      April 1, 2011 at 3:51 am |
  11. Come and see

    I'm a Christian. I'm a Mormon. Our church is awesome. The church is all about coming unto Christ, strong families, and being kind. Come and check it out if you're curious. I think you'll like it. http://www.mormon.org.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • dzerres

      Nope, its all about the money. Ten percent and I'll give you a temple pass, otherwise hit the road.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  12. nyles Cota

    matt stone come on now

    March 24, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  13. UofUrocks

    Ya know why ya can't take one Mormon friend fishing with you? If ya only take one, he will drink all your beer!
    What does a silver dollar in the bottom of a toilet and a BYU coed have in common? Never want to be seen taking either one out!

    March 24, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  14. Bryan W

    The Book of Mormon has truly brought peace to my family and I. Along with the Bible it teaches kindness, forgivness, and hope for better things to come. Should teachings such as these be ridiculed? To each his own but please don't judge or mock those striving to be Christ-like. No matter your beliefs those who choose to culture universally good values should be applauded and not made fun of.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • mexicanHater

      book of the being'ers

      March 24, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Steve

      Wow, look at that. The Mormon PR machine is rolling. Do you guys notice all the praises that most people think is pathetic. You can make fun of mormons belief system but you have to be impressed by their PR. Too bad that all this energy is going is not going to something useful. What a waste of dollars and talent...

      March 25, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  15. Chris

    I testify that We have a Loving Heavenly Father who send his beloved Son Jesus Christ. I testify that He died for our sins and that He lives. I testify and bare testimony without a shadow of doubt that God and Jesus Christ appeared to the young Prophet Joseph Smith,that his name would be taken for good and for bad. That through him the Church of Jesus Christ was once more established on this Earth. This is the true Church, the fullness of the everlasting gospel is on Earth once. anyone can come to this knowledge simply by asking God it it is true or not. He will answer and He promises you, that if you pray will real intend having faith in Him, He will tell you YES.
    http://www.mormon.org

    March 24, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Dieter Zerressen

      true what? LDS? please. Mormonism is right up there with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • mexicanHater

      once upon a time there was a monkey and he became a man and when he was a man he he saw death..
      the man then became very afraid, but alas there was a voice from within his new mind saying
      "worry not for you shall live forever with the pink unicorn and never die" and the man was happy....

      March 24, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  16. SS

    Nothing but respect for Trey and Matt. Brilliant, hilarious guys.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Kellie

      That's interesting since they don't respect anything.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Steve

      Kellie, they don't respect what does not deserve to be respected...

      March 25, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Drew

      Actually I think they respect most things they parody on some level; from what I can tell they portray Mormons as usually really wonderful people

      March 25, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  17. Mark Stoddard

    Cool! I guess we Mormon's are doing something right! Just going to bring more attention to Church and lead to more converts....all press is good press. Keep it coming South Park boys....to be worthy of a Broadway Play just adds a ton of legitimacy to the Church. Ha! Bring it on...

    March 24, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • rafael

      Ha! I doubt it! Ha ha! And I think you missed the point!

      March 24, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Dieter Zerressen

      Obviously you need to watch the Mormon South Park epidsode – dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb (you have it hear it) to get the idea what the rest of the world thinks of your religion. It's bad enough when super religious people think the world is only 6,000 years old or that humans lived with the dinosaurs but if you add that to your beliefs, like the seerer stones and interpreting golden plates through a hat – for real, people – than we just can no longer contain our laughter.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Adam Hawkes

      Right on mark Mark.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • knn

      @ Dieter Zerressen
      I love it when Christians make fun of Joseph Smith's use of the Urim & Thummim and then find out from the Old Testament that ancient prophets used them as well.

      Cracks me up.

      March 25, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  18. Evan

    Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He said "by their fruits ye shall know them". Read the Book of Mormon before you talk down a prophet.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • mexicanHater

      read it, been it, total bull!

      March 24, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  19. IAMLDS

    I am LDS or Mormon. I've been part of the church all my life. As far as I am concerned, I think I have treated everyone kindly and have done my best in representing Jesus Christ. I cannot control how others perceive my church but all I can say is that I believe that the Book of Mormon has brought me closer to Christ, to my family, and to my friends. I know that the things I learn in the church are making me a better person. Obviously, it is within your own rights to have your opinions about my church and about what we do. However, sometimes I get tired of hearing all the hateful things people say about things that I care for the most. I hate seeing people attack missionaries for sharing their beliefs to others. I hope someday we can all coexist peacefully and with respect for one another. In the end, I think God will judge us by how we treat one another.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Dieter Zerressen

      A good place to start is for your church to be less judgmental and hateful toward we gentiles. You're all sweetness and light to strangers until you find out they have no interest in that Joseph Smith nonsense and then the claws come out. Also the LDS Church is not known for doing good deeds, unless of course the recipients are LDS. At least other churches build schools, dig wells, and aid the less fortunate overseas with their missions, whereas all your missionaries do is try to convert people. Try thinking more like Christ – charity first.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • mexicanHater

      im with Lt. Dan in forest gump "god this a god that...." blah blah blah

      March 24, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • sito1012

      @ IAMLDS...when the fraud of our age that people call "religion" ceases to exist then humanity will "co-exist" again and be in tune and in harmony with ourselves and the other beautiful living organism religion has made people forget, Earth!

      March 24, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Emma

      Mormons are not Christians, their Jesus is the brother of Lucifer and Mormons believe they become gods one day. The book of Mormon is heretical.

      According to the Holy Bible, Satan tried to become like God and he was thrown out of heaven.

      Salvation cannot be achieved through good works, it is by grace through faith that we are saved so no man can boast. Jesus Christ is God and he was also fully man. Read your Holy Bible... not the lie Joseph Smith received from angels of light (demons).

      Jesus shed his blood and took our sins upon himself and went to hell for 3 days so we wouldn't have to. In order to receive your salvation, you need to cry out to Jesus (the true Jesus, not the false one) to save you and give your life to Him. He will then put His Spirit in you and you WILL experience Him in a very real way after this. You will know absolutely without a doubt that Jesus Christ is alive. He was unrecognizable as a human when he hung on that cross at Calvary.

      The power of God is very real and tangible.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Steve

      Funny, what made me a better person is when I freed myself from religion. Also, if mormons stopped knocking at our doors, maybe we would make less fun of them.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • knn

      Dieter Zerressen, you are not familiar with the church's humanitarian efforts. Dig just a little, and you'll be surprised. I'd recommend googling LDS humanitarian aid to get started. The next time you're in a natural disaster, be prepared to meet a bunch of mormons offering a helping hand.

      The Haiti earthquake happened on January 12. On January 14 two planes flew to Haiti with 160,000 pounds of food as well as emergency supplies, tents, water filtration, medical supplies etc. And it didn't stop there. I could go on forever.

      We don't expect to get the accolades of the world for our humanitarian efforts but don't paint us as self-centered when you clearly know nothing about our church.

      March 25, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  20. Makes Name

    "Matt" Stone. "MATT." Just sayin...

    March 24, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Rickle

      Seriously, CNN is a joke. Do they not have an editor?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:47 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.