A group of white-shirted, plucky can-do Mormon missionaries took over Broadway in 2011. The breezy comedy “ The Book of Mormon” is one of the most critically acclaimed and best-selling shows of the decade so far. Now, nine Tonys, four Oliviers and two tours later, it will enter into the heart of Mormon territory next week when the irreverent musical opens its sold-out run at the Morrison Center.
Tickets are no longer on sale, but you still can enter a lottery for each show.
The national tour heads into Boise with a truckload of rave reviews and brisk ticket sales. From Boise, it moves on to a sold-out run in Salt Lake City.
Idaho has one of the largest per capita Mormon populations in the country, about 24 percent. But does that mean Mormons will make up 24 percent of the audience? Probably not. Many won’t see the show because they say they find it offensive, but the show has created a wave of interest in the religion.
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“I’m not a fan of the play,” says Boise’s Susan Hessing. “It mocks something I hold sacred, so I will not be attending the production. However, if it makes someone curious enough that they read The Book of Mormon, then I’m all for it.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken out ads in the show’s program.
Boise resident Megan McCaleb Bryant, 34, a comedian, mother and devout Mormon, saw the show in Chicago a couple of years ago.
“It’s like low-hanging fruit to pick on Mormons,” she says. “There were a lot of stereotypes, which I expected. I wonder, if it had been about any other religious group, would it have been as successful? Would they do a musical about Muslims?”
It shouldn’t be a shock that the show can be offensive. It is after all from “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” composer Robert Lopez. These guys take no prisoners when it comes to comedy. “South Park” lambastes everyone from George Clooney to the Prophet Muhammad, and takes on subjects from the touchy (such as racism) to the silly (such as U.S. relationships with Canada), all with a sense of wide-eyed optimism. Lopez’s “Avenue Q,” a Tony-winning musical that featured puppet performers, is a blisteringly satire on modern morals, tinged with a “Sesame Street” sweetness.
Mormons aren’t alone. The show also sends up basically all religions, international-aid organizations, Bono and musical theater itself. At its core, the play is a coming-of-age story that follows two naive and spunky Mormon missionaries who hope for a cushy assignment in Florida but wind up in Uganda.
Set down in unfamiliar territory, Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) must overcome their greatest fears and face some of the world’s most serious problems. Along the way they lose themselves, reaffirm their faith and, in the end, learn as much as they teach.
There is plenty of profanity — there are song titles and character names that can’t be printed — that may put off some, but not all, Mormons.
“The profanity doesn’t bother me. I know this is entertainment, and no matter what you see these days, you hear it,” says Deidre Miller, 26. Miller grew up in Twin Falls and is an active member of the LDS Church. “It will be interesting to see it,” she says. “If the church had qualms about it, it would send out an announcement for us not to see it.”
The LDS Church did put out an official statement in 2011: “The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”
Ironically, that echoes one of the central messages of the musical: What you believe does shape your life, says Boise’s Brandon Atkins, who saw the show in Los Angeles last year. Atkins is openly gay and an active member of the Mormon Church.
“I loved it, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have faith in God and a belief in the LDS Church,” he says.
In the end, you have to remember that it’s just a musical, he says.
“This isn’t the church,” Atkins says. “It’s theater, and that’s a completely different thing. Matt and Trey used intimate details about the church, but the whole point is to make you laugh.”