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.
You guys have the wrong website, it's not mrm.org it's mormon.org. mrm.org isn't the LDS church!
"But Bennett is sure that the musical will offend more religious Mormons."
Quite the opposite. The more enlightened Mormons will not fear it and recognize it for what it is; as does Richard Bushman. Those that may be shaken are those that are care more about what others think of them rather than what they think of themselves.
The more enlightened Mormons know that the words on the pages of the Book of Mormon help the reader question what is read; when that happens the light that is in them flickers a little brighter. With more light comes the ability to comprehend more than what the eyes and ears can perceive.
So please enjoy the musical, maybe your light will flicker a little brighter. You will find yourself smiling.
It's an easy target because it's absurd and has been debunked numerous times...yet the feeble minded still believe.
Isn't it frustrating that those feeble minds get some sense of Community, Right, and Wrong then refuse to become victims of those such as yourself.
Didn't Obama say something about bullying those that are perceived to be weaker than yourself?
I know mormons teach that blacks are cursed. Is that true for all nonwhites?
No, Mormons do not teach that blacks are cursed.
They used to – but that folk-doctrine has been out of favor for over thirty years now.
I really don't support a comical critique of a religious tradition like this, it trivializes the factual criticisms of Joseph Smith, and then LDS followers tend to lump any critique into the same bunch. For LDS and Investigators looking for the truth behind the mysterious history of Joseph Smith I can recommend no better jumping off point than Grant H. Palmer's, "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins." Don't worry, this isn't some "anti Mormon" propaganda, just historical truth. You can find it on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Insiders-View-Mormon-Origins/dp/1560851570 If you care about the LDS faith it might be the best book you ever read.
Is attacking Mormons politically correct? What about Jews? Muslims? If this play were a parody on Islam it would have been shouted down by now. If it were a parody about Judaism the ACLU would have come to the rescue.
Why pick on the Mormons?
@Marshall – Apparently you've never seen South Park.
Of course I've seen South Park. This is a conversation about the play. If this play were about any other religion it would have been sued out of existence either by the religion being parodied or the ACLU. Think about it. If this were a parody about Jewish faith the Anti-Defamation League or the ACLU would have come to the rescue and a judge would have shut it down.
Marshall, I happen to be a believer in Jesus Christ. I dont need to pay to go see a musical that makes fun of my religion. They are not "picking" on mormons. I attend a liberal university and unfortunately not a day goes by that one of my professors does not in some way, make fun of or poke at my faith. I dont think they are picking on them, they are merely raising some age old questions about this very secretive, and manipulative tradition. I can only imagine more things will be coming making fun of all the worlds religions.
A successful religion is a religion that manages to make its believers angry when other poke fun at it. It shows how effective the brainwashing has been...
LDS exposure....AWESOME. The more people hear about the gosple (good or bad) the more questions may be raised about how you may be living your life. You may or may not like what you see or hear about the church. You won't know unless you see for yourself!
I've slept with only two mormon girls (I'm not mormon myself) and several Catholic chicks, and I will say this: the Catholics are more screwed up in the head than the mormon girls, who were downright wonderful. I would recommend a mormon girl to every guy in the nation if I could.
Sorry to hear about that Kerry. We are taught to remain pure, and only engage in those relations until we are married.
Mormon denomination is the church of Satan. It mixes truth with error and does not teach full obedience to the word of God.
They will say to the Lord: "Have we not cast out demons and made miracles in your name?", but the Lord will tell them: "I do not know you, you who practice lawlessness." (Remember that Satan can give to his slaves the power to "heal" diseases that he himself created.)
The only church that belongs to God is Seventh Day Adventist Church. They are the elect and special before God's eyes.
Ya, they are descended from the apocalyptic Millerites..
How many times did they predict the end of the world and people sold their homes and farms and waited?
People get hurt by religion, but society gives it a pass because so many people are involved.
That should change.
@Bieber- That last bit of your comment made me snort milk through my nose from laughing.
Saw it on Tuesday and and will have to go see it again because we were laughing so hard we missed half the jokes. The music was good and the cast was terrific. It is by far the best show we have ever seen and would highly recommend it.
Oh lay off. They can't drink coffee or alcohol. Isn't that bad enough without making fun of them?
Actually no its not. Why on earth would you want to put those toxins in your body? It does NOTHING for you. Drinking alcohol just leads to other problems. You are never in your right mind drinking alcohol. I don't care if you drink, but guess what, we CHOOSE to not drink. It isn't something we are FORCED to do. We choose.
Actually studies show people who drink in moderation live longer than people who don't drink at all.
Not a fan of boozing it myself, just saying a glass of wine every now and then may make the Prozac unnecessary.
...and a recent 25 year UCLA study shows Mormons live longer lives than others.
One of my favorite lessons from the Book of Mormon is "And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments." Mosiah 23:14. The writers of this play are obviously not teaching the way Christ taught, or the way that someone would teach if he were keeping his commandments. However, people are free to judge as they will. The Book of Mormon is either true or it is false. I would invite everyone to read the Book of Mormon for themselves and find out if it is true. My life has been blessed by this book and by all other scripture that teaches about Jesus Christ.
I've heard the genetics against mormonism thing before. Mormons believe that a man and his family left the middle east hundreds of years before Christ... you expect to find genetic markers in the entire native american population today based on one family? Have you ever heard of genetic drift? founder size? gene flow that may have occurred after the mormon book ends? If you're going to bash mormonism with science at least try to use reasonable claims.
I have read the Book of Mormon, I have prayed in faith, and I now know it to be true. That knowledge in turn has brought me understanding, purpose, and lasting happiness. Opinions have little consequence. Truth, conversely, is profound and of eternal value. When you care more about what IS than what you or others think, read it.
There's a reason Mormons "turn out well." They have light the rest of the world is without.
This is the key–what is fact and truth for you is actually your opinion. If religious people would comprehend that, the world would be a much better place.
I don't care who you are, or your religion, but DO NOT attack my religion. It's upsetting to see that creators of "South Park" are even thinking about doing this... REALLY? Unfortunately you ALL can try to prove the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints religion wrong, but guess what, those who have PhD's and are experts at religion have STILL TO THIS VERY DAY failed at proving MY religion wrong. I feel this is disgusting and you all who are trying to prove yourselves by making this right, well you're just making a fool of yourselves.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is based on The Book of Mormon. Also on Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the Son of God. He is our Redeemer. The Holy Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ's mother was Mary, His father on earth was Joseph, that He was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, and labored with Joseph as a carpenter. When he turned 30, He began a three-year ministry of teaching, blessing, and healing the people of the Holy Land. He also organized His Church and gave His apostles "power and authority" (Luke 9:1) to assist in His work. Jesus Christ is the only way by which we can return to live with our Heavenly Father. Jesus suffered and was crucified for the sins of the world, giving each of God’s children the gift of repentance and forgiveness. Only by His mercy and grace can anyone be saved. His subsequent resurrection prepared the way for every person to overcome physical death as well. These events are called the Atonement. In short, Jesus Christ saves us from sin and death. For that, he is very literally our Savior and Redeemer. In the future Jesus Christ will return to reign on earth in peace for a thousand years. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and He will be our Lord forever.
“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6) Christ told his followers during his brief but powerful ministry on earth. It was a timely and needed message since a few hundred years before His birth many people had stopped living according to God’s commandments. Christ brought light back into the world when He proclaimed His gospel just as he had to the prophets of old like Abraham, Isaac, and Moses. He chose twelve men to be His apostles—including Peter, James and John—and laid His hands on their heads to give them authority called the priesthood to perform baptisms, govern His church, and spread His word throughout the world.
In spite of His great influence and many miracles, He was ultimately rejected and crucified. After his death, His brave and faithful apostles carried on without Him, baptizing new members, and starting various congregations.
The Great Falling Away
Regardless of the valiant efforts of Christ’s apostles and their faithful followers, the original church that Christ restored began to fade away. Members faced severe persecution and all but one of the apostles were martyred. This is a period called the Great Apostasy, when there was a “falling away” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3) from the gospel Christ organized. The apostolic authority to bestow priesthood keys and to receive revelation for the Church was lost along with many precious teachings. Errors about His teachings crept into the church resulting in conflicting opinions and lost truths. This period is what we call the Great Apostasy.
Now this is where you all are wrong, This is when Joseph Smith read in his bible, James 1:5 "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” and he did just that, he went, by himself, in a grove of tree's and bent down on his knees and prayed.
Now to skip to the Book of Mormon which you ALL seem to attack, and yet, it is one of the strongest books on the earth today. The Book of Mormon testifies that Jesus Christ did indeed live on the earth and still lives today as our divine Savior. It’s a second witness affirming the existence of Jesus Christ and the truth of the Bible. The account of its origin is as miraculous as the other events surrounding the restoration of the Church.
In 1823 Joseph Smith was visited by a heavenly messenger named Moroni just as angels often appeared to Apostles in the New Testament. Moroni told Joseph about a record of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent that was buried in a nearby hill. He said it contained the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and was written on thin metal sheets of gold. Joseph translated the book into English. The book was named the Book of Mormon after Mormon, the ancient prophet who compiled it.
My religion is also based on families. Families are Forever. Wouldn't you want to spend eternity with your family? I sure would! Especially in these times, instead of hearing "Until Death do you part", no not even! I want to be with my husband and my family even after I pass on. Living peacefully in a family isn’t always easy, but in God’s restored church, marriage and families are believed to be the most important social unit now and in eternity. God wants us to do all we can now to prepare ourselves to live with our family forever. If we build our marriage and family around Christ’s principles including faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome fun, home can be a place of refuge, peace and immense joy.
We must not get discouraged. No matter how hard we try, our marriage and home won’t be perfect. That’s part of the growth process we’re meant to experience. God wants us to learn how to be patient and loving when our spouse, toddler or teen is acting only too human. Our job is to serve them, which in turn will help us become more like God.
I'm sorry, but I feel that the broadway that whoever has decided to put together to make fun of Mormons and Missionaries, I feel it is wrong. Mormons don't attack anyone else's religion, and we try to live our lives in such a way where we can live with our Heavenly Father again. We aren't better then anyone else, but we are striving to be better people each day, as ANY OTHER human being on this planet would be trying.
Mormons may not "attack" other religions, but they don't mind a few snide criticisms.
And in fact they do attack the view that all religion is inherently false and man made.
So others disagree with you. Don't ask them not to express it when you are sending folks around with white shirts and badges and posting your testimony on CNN.
I would like to bear you my testimony. If there is a god, man could not even comprehend the word, and thus knows nothing about the subject. Religion is tool of undeserved domination over other men, and an endorphin release is not god nor a spirit. Amen.
Your mythology is not above ridicule...
Ok, that had to be Mel Gibson.
Nobody with a PhD has proved it false but more importantly nobody with blind faith has proved it true. The burden of proof lies with who makes the claim.
The book of Mormon is pretty easy to prove false though.
For that matter, so is the bible.
Now people may say it could have happened, but objectively, reasonably, the account portrayed did not occur no matter how people may feel inside about it.
mormons are a waste of space on this planet
eradicate them from our earth!
Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb
Don't let these bullies bother you.
They feed on fresh meat and will trample any flower.
Just follow one of the rules about bullies. Stay away from them the best you can and stay close to your friends. The bullies get bored and move on when they don't get a response that they want to play with.
Besides, most rational people will have their interest heightened and their internal light flicker a little brighter.
So don't worry about those that hate any light that reveals the things that they desperately try to justify.
"But the strategy may also contribute to an aura of mystery around the religion."
Magnets...they hold the true meaning and understanding.
At least they're not knocking on the door of your personal residence insisting that you listen to a musical number and/or forcing you to take a Playbill.
I am LDS. I love this church so much. I have a very strong testimony of it's truth. One day, my best friend invited me to go to this building with a pointy thing on the roof and I told her I'd come. Church in general seemed so werid to me, but finding out that Heavenly Father loves me and knows me changed my entire life. It really did. He loves all of us despite our flaws. All we have to do is strive to be the best people we can be. My dad, my mom, and my brother changed. I am part of a happy family now. All I have to do is be an example and ask for help. I've found friends that I'll keep for the rest of my life. I've learned how to love and how to be thankful. It's all a matter of being open minded. What is the meaning of life? It's not too hard to find out. All you really have to do is open the Book of Mormon.
The book of Mormon tells you the meaning of life?
What page is that on?
"wherefore it came to pass yea that in the 18'th year of the reign of Zarathulamen the people did wax exceedingly strong in righteousness, yea, they gathered the wheat and oats and tended the horses, yea, but in the 19'th year they did become exceedingly prideful yea, and a great army gathered and 20,000 were smote with Iron swords...."
How exactly do you get a meaning of life from that? No offense, but how do you even read it with a straight face?
I am not trying to be mean I really want to know because I just don't understand at all how anyone can take that seriously.
Mel, thank you for your testimony. You are a great person and I appreciate your courage to stick up for the Gospel.
Thank you :)
I am glad you found some happiness in your life. It seems fairly obvious you were a lost and very lonely pesron. Most churches would have accepted you in the same friendly way. Unfortunately the LDS religion is not Christian. You see Mel, being CHRISTian means Jesus Christ is God, and no, Joseph Smith is not the Lord's equal.
For info on the LDS cult go to http://www.mrm.org
Mel, you can't start off statement in this kind of public debate like a testimony meeting. This is a debate in a public forum. Come out strong.
@Don. The full name of the church is The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints. They do not worship Joseph Smith. They worship God and Jesus Christ. Get your facts straight before you start spouting.
Hi, Mel. I see your point of view and read you message carefully. I myself am not a mormon, though many of my family members are. I am however a strong believer in Jesus Christ, as my lord and savior. In your response, you state "all we have to do is be the best we can be." What exactly do you mean by this? And why? The beautiful thing about Jesus is that he was that perfect guy. You know this, no one is perfect. Yes I strive to model the life of Jesus but, because of the great fall, I know that I am a sinner by nature, and will never be able to meet the Lords expectation. I am glad you are standing up for what you believe, I would do the same. But have you seriously stopped to consider that maybe life really isnt all about 'me' but it is about, a relationship with someone. A relationship with someone who loves you and I so much that he gave his life up for us, even to go to the cross, in the face of humility for all to see. And he died. For you and me. That is the message of the Gospel.
Another jab at Mormons from Stone and Parker? Yawn. It's been done to death already, guys. Time for some new schtick?
James Strang is usually left out of mormon history. But he found and translated the plates of Laben. I found some plates too once, but mom told me if she caught me walking on the counters again I was grounded.
The one website not owned by devout Mormons, and of course despised by Mormons is http://www.mrm.org
Great site that tells all about the Mormon religion.
Mormons hate the truth.
Don most religions don't like to answer logical questions about something that ONLY blind faith can explain, but mormonism??? Holy Krapper Batman that "religion" is over the freakin' top far-fetched! It amazes me that people actually buy into it though.... says a lot about how far our society still needs to evolve.
I am not sure where you get your ideas from? I am no longer Mormon. They NEVER said Joseph Smith was equal to Jesus. I am not here to bible bash with you. I think you need to keep your opinion to yourself and leave these people alone . They have their beliefs just like you have yours. You are like a missionary yourself........... trying to convince others of the "TRUTH" whatever that means???? Get your own spiritual compass in order and you'll see you don't need to convince anybody of anything.
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.