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Review: The Book of Mormon Musical

The Book of Mormon: Obscene, irreverent and delightfully charming.

By Geoff Griffin
 Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) bears his testimony to the Ugandans
Posted // March 23,2011 - What’s surprising about The Book of Mormon isn’t that parts of the musical push Broadway to new levels of obscenity, blasphemy and outrageousness. With those responsible for South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) and Avenue Q (Robert Lopez) combining to write this musical, that type of humor was to be expected. What’s truly astonishing is that the other half of this musical is so cute, it could have been written by Mormons, for Mormons. Several songs would fit in perfectly with popular Mormon musicals from the 1970s like Saturday’s Warrior and My Turn on Earth. The mocking humor of the Mormon cultural stereotypes isn’t much different from what can be found in the post-Singles Ward comedies of Mormon filmmakers. Even the historical dioramas wouldn’t initially look out of place at an LDS Church heritage site—well, at least until the characters start talking.

Thus, we get a musical where one song has a chorus of “Fuck you, God,” but later the entire cast sings “Tomorrow Is a Latter Day,” a song so unabashedly warm and fuzzy it’s hard to believe it’s not in the Children’s Primary Songbook and that Deseret Book doesn’t sell rings with the acronym TIALD. The balance of sweet-and-sour is so finely tuned that while Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) sings about his Mormon beliefs (Jesus came to America, God lives on a planet called Kolob, etc.) in a way that must sound crazy to non-Mormons, at the same time, there’s no doubt that everyone in the theater is rooting for the elder as a hero.

The main theme of the show is that while everyone is entitled to believe what they want, it’s your good works that really matter. Using that as a measure of a religion, it’s clear that Parker, Stone and Lopez think quite highly of Mormons. Besides, if your theme is that works trump doctrines, what better group is there to illustrate the point than a religion with teachings outside the Christian mainstream that is still somewhat well known thanks to its TV ads and a massive missionary program? Pair up two mismatched young missionaries and you’ve got a classic buddy plot combined with a coming-of-age story. The Book of Mormon takes all of this, and from the moment the Angel Moroni located above the stage blows his horn to signal the start of the show, we’re off and running with a well-paced plot and plenty of catchy tunes in a performance that is at once hilarious, blasphemous and kind.

Elder Price is the perfect missionary who gets paired with the sweet misfit Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad). “All my friends always end up leaving me, but you can’t,” Cunningham tells Price in summing up the missionary experience. The pair gets sent to a village in Uganda beset by famine, poverty, AIDS and a warlord who wants to conduct a mass female circumcision. (If there’s any group that should be offended by the stereotypes in The Book of Mormon, it’s Ugandans.)

A young Ugandan woman, Nabalungi, played by Nikki M. James, looks to the elders for help. If this show catches on, Utahns should be prepared that when they travel outside the state, people will ask them if they are from “Salt-a-Lake-a See-tee,” which is how Nabalungi sings about the place she longs to live. Of course, nobody other than a Salt Laker can better appreciate the irony when Nabalungi is later told, “Salt Lake City isn’t an actual place. It’s a metaphor.”

Parker, Stone and Lopez get the Mormon doctrine mostly correct and are pretty dead-on with the cultural references with some exceptions. In the preview I attended, the Mission President said, “Praise Christ,” which any Mormon will tell you is much too emotional and not used in the faith. The process for how the elders receive their callings and get sent out into the world is different from how it actually happens, but this appears to have been done for plotting reasons more than anything else. Ultimately, these are small quibbles about a show that is so accurate in its knowledge of Mormons that a song about Elder Price’s “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” features dancing coffees right alongside Hitler.

The Book of Mormon has plenty of material that will offend, but it’s thrown together with material that Utahns will recognize as hitting the comedic spot while also coming straight from the heart.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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Posted // April 1,2012 at 13:07

Avenging Angels aside - don't miss Majir's point about those who help vs. those who just mock.    Ugandans know better.


Posted // July 29,2011 at 14:32 (31 July 2011)


Theo van Gogh the great grand-nephew of Vincent van Gogh produced the film Submission which was about the treatment of women in Islam. Well, Mohammed Bougeri, a Muslim, took offense, so he assassinated van Gogh. When a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad there were riots in the streets of Islam and people died. Enter Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame. They decided to do one of their cartoon stories where they had the prophet Muhammad locked in a U-Haul trailer and later hiding in a bear costume. Of course the Muslim world was not amused, and after subtle reminders by the Muslim press of what happened to van Gogh the boys from South Park backed down. I guess being killed and their bloody bodies left lying in the street like van Gogh was too much to offer for their art form. Of course Stone and Parker have continued to lampoon the religions of the world and do so without fear of reprisal as long as they leave guys named Muhammad alone. Before mass media most religions had their sort-of-open enforcers who were there to protect the church, the flock and the politics of a religion. Now there are too many cameras everywhere and instant communication to let the world know your religion is up to bad behavior, so is there enforce? I am a boring old Methodist, but to the best of my knowledge my religion has not had any secret society that swears a blood oath to defend our faith with the gun and the knife. That is not to say my church has not had its share of lying, cheating, stealing and killing, but no hit-squads that murder you in the street for publishing an unflattering article or cartoon about a Methodist Bishop. The Latter Day Saints Church or the Mormons as most people know this religion by, has in the past had its share of hard men, who did hard things in the defense of their religion and the people of that faith. People who were not only persecuted for their beliefs, but were driven out by local enforcement and sometimes murdered. When you see your family and fellow church members dead because of their religious beliefs in a land that is suppose to guarantee freedom of religion, you may find a pressing need for a little push back. Sometimes in the past, cold steel in the hands of hard men was the primary means of pushing back. Orin Porter Rockwell comes to mind when you think of a very hard man who stood-in-the-door to defend his religion and way of life. He was one of the earliest members of the LDS Church and he spent his entire life defending and protecting his religion and its members from alleged threats from within and outside the LDS Church. If even a fraction of the things Rockwell is given credit for are true, he dispensed his form of justice to the quick and the dead. Now back to the South Park boys. They have moved from cartoons to Broadway and their subject matter for this music extravaganza is the LDS Church. The Book of Mormon is a religious satire about two young Mormon men who are sent to Uganda on a two year Church mission. And of course the play does everything it can to make the LDS Church look like fools. I called a couple of LDS friends of mine, one a Bishop and the other a retired Air Force chaplain for their opinion. They were not amused by the musical, but both brought up the issue of LDS support to the people of sub-Saharan Africa. In the seven years it took Stone and Parker to develop the musical, tens of thousands of Africans have been helped by the LDS Church, through food supplied, medical support and education. What have the boys of South Park done for Uganda besides laugh at them? They would not dare to make a musical of Muslims dancing, singing and swearing at Allah in the name of being equal opportunity offenders. Of course not, they had already backed down in the name of their own safety when it comes to poking fun at Islam. When gay marriage was losing ground in California the LDS churches were protested, but when the votes were counted it was in fact the minority vote that had sealed the fate of gay marriage. Nobody ran out and protested at the Black or predominately Hispanic churches in California, possibly a personal safety issue? The Danites and Porter Rockwell the Destroying Angel, figures from the past. Hard times, hard people, hard decisions, don’t push.

Major Van Harl USAF Ret


Posted // August 2,2011 at 16:27 - God Almighty, isn't it interesting to read a Mormon describe Porter Rockwell as some kind of avenging angel who "protected" people? He was nothing but an illiterate enforcer and murderer who would have swung by a rope if Utah was a state when his reign of terror took place. Threats from within? Yeah, how many pioneers did he murder, major?

Major, supposedly we're different and more tolerant of opinion than the radical fringe of Islam. Those idiots live in the 13th Century. Which century do you live in?


Posted // August 1,2011 at 10:04 - Love your closing lines - fine threats - I can picture you polishing your little pistol, reading it for war. Are you saying that, because the Mo's were made fun of in a musical (and for good reason), some "hard" Mormon should invoke the murderous spirit of Porter Rockwell to avenge them? Rockwell was nothing more than a criminal thug, given permission by Smith and then Young (another murderer) to murder at will for a cause. He wasn't the first thug to justify his criminal behavior via religion, and he won't be the last. In fact, since you brought it up, you could say that Porter was not so different from the stupid Muslim murderers bombing everything they can just to kill and chalking it up to religion and God. Just so you know, if Methodists weren't so boring, we'd make fun of you, too.