I guess you could say I’m a prototypical Mormon. I was born and raised in Utah, and I have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my entire life. I served a two-year mission in the Czech Republic, and I graduated from BYU.
I had mixed emotions when I first heard about “The Book of Mormon” musical. Initially, I had a reflexive anger about someone crudely mocking what I hold precious and sacred. But then part of me was happy to see my religion gain such prominent public exposure.
I always want the LDS faith to be accurately and fairly represented in the media. But I have also always been pretty excited to see Mormons rise to the “honor” of being made fun of in pop culture. One of my favorite movie moments comes from an old Star Trek where Captain Kirk confuses LSD with LDS.
The show starts on a silly note and maintains a tone of absurdity throughout. As it tells the story of the Mormon church, it leans heavily on the more unique aspects of the faith that are most likely to sound bizarre to an outsider. The audience laughed quite a bit at some things I’ve believed my whole life, but that didn’t bother me.
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That said, I was actually surprised with how respectful the show was of the Mormon church. Perhaps I was expecting it to be more mean-spirited, but the musical really isn’t about the LDS church. It just uses the church as a backdrop to provide jokes to a pretty good coming-of-age story. And that is what I most identified with.
The show did a great job of getting into a missionary’s mind. I related to the feelings of bright optimism to go out and change the world. The fear of being sent to an undesirable location. The dread of being paired with an annoying companion. And the final realization that you don’t know as much as you thought you did.
I was disappointed in how the second act played out. The goofy missionaries were able to convert the village in Uganda, but only by lying to the people and embellishing their message to include references to “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
The show did try to make the point that even if the story isn’t necessarily true, it can still be good if it inspires you to be a better person. I guess I was hoping for a scene where the missionaries did make sure to teach the natives properly.
Instead, the show gave me the Ugandans’ version of the Joseph Smith story, which was the most vulgar part of the show. I’m a Mormon who’s not opposed to watching the occasional R-rated movie, but this sexual scene made me blush.
All in all, I have to give credit to this musical. It is really well done.
I felt a little guilty for laughing at the dirty jokes, but I felt no remorse for laughing at the Mormon jokes. We Mormons usually like to make fun of ourselves, and most of us love a good musical. Unfortunately, most Mormons will not want to see this show because of the raunchy material.
It truly is a cruel joke to make a play about Mormons that isn’t appropriate for Mormons.