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'The Book of Mormon' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

March 25, 2011 |  9:34 am


For their first big Broadway venture, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the duo behind "South Park," have trained their satirical missile system on the Mormon Church. Along with Robert Lopez of "Avenue Q," they have set out to make a big, full-blooded musical with an irreverently comic heart.

"The Book of Mormon" officially opened Thursday at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York. Directed by Parker and Casey Nicholaw, the show tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries (Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad) who travel to a remote Ugandan village. The musical, which features an original book and score by Parker, Stone and Lopez, satirizes such topics as religion, AIDS and "The Lion King."

Like another high-profile Broadway musical with a name-brand creative team, "The Book of Mormon" has been relentlessly covered by the media. Parker and Stone have gone on the record stating that  "we wanted to make this not just cynical and Mormon bashing, but hopeful and happy," according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been conspicuously low-key about the show. Earlier this year, the church issued a terse statement saying that "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."

How did the critics react to the show? It's fair to say that "The Book of Mormon" has made converts out of most of them.

Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the musical "has all the fearlessness one would expect" from the makers of "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut." But at its core, the production is "an old-fashioned musical comedy heart" that "can feel at times oddly familiar."

The New York Times' Ben Brantley called the production "old-fashioned" and "pleasure-giving," a show that "both makes fun of and ardently embraces the all-American art form of the inspirational book musical." As for the ensemble cast, it's "the best in a musical since Susan Stroman's team for 'The Producers.'"

David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter wrote that the team has "created one of the freshest original musicals in recent memory." The show "packs plenty of blissful profanity, sacrilege and politically incorrect mischief," but its "defining quality ... is its sweetness."

The Washington Post's Peter Marks described the show as a "pricelessly entertaining act of musical-comedy subversion" and an "extraordinarily well-crafted musical assault on all things holy." He added that "the piece is ultimately more effective as pop entertainment [than other edgier musicals] because it refreshes the old templates rather than viewing them as worn out."

Elysa Gardner of USA Today wrote that "the most surprising thing about 'Mormon' ...  may be its inherent sweetness." The creative team behind the show manages to "avoid the self-congratulatory snark common to their generation of comedy writers.... Neither the Mormons nor the Ugandans are mocked for their belief systems; they're parodied for their mutual human fallibility."


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-- David Ng

Photos: Scenes from "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway. Credit: Joan Marcus / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (11)

I'll have to see it. But I am sure it's just another sweet subtle stab at the church. So who isn't fallible?

In todays pop culture it seems if it is or ever was positive for your life, family or society at large it is attacked or mocked. If the Book of Mormon is now in the crosshairs I guess its time to actually read it. I think Mormons in general are great having them mocked by pop culture simply tells me Im on the right track.

Depressing stuff. Contempt and hatred for religious faith is the essence of political correctness, and this is yet another assault.

Parker's and Stone's take on religion asks us to consider whether the world is better off when life is lived in a haze of etheric fantasy or within the cold eye of truth.

Of course the Mormons are being low-key about the show.

@Scott: You've quite obviously already read The Book of Mormon and are on "the track" of Mormonism. Nice passive-aggressive try to promote reading the Book of Mormon. I'm sure more people *will* read it--and to have a hearty laugh at its absurdities.

The producers have deliberately shown only the proselyting aspect of the LDS missionary involvement in Africa, as if that is all the church as ever cared about.

"The Church had been dedicated to helping the poor and needy since the time of Joseph Smith, Elder Ballard said. But this effort, during (in 1991) which Church members in the United States and Canada donated $6 million in a special fast to help the starving Ethiopians and others in need, accelerated the work.

"While the Church has always responded to the suffering caused by various disasters, the Ethiopian famine triggered a more methodical and organized effort than had been experienced before," Elder Pace said.

Church leaders held sacred the funds raised in the fast, as well as a second fast held in November 1985 that raised an additional $5 million. To expedite its Church's humanitarian endeavors, the Church began to form relationships with humanitarian organizations to help those in need.

Elder Pace remembers sitting in a welfare meeting where Church leaders discussed the great outpouring that "exceeded all expectations." President Gordon B. Hinckley, then second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke with emotion of the money sent by members. "The Saints have placed a great trust in us," he said. "We cannot let them down."

In the 25 years since that fast, the Church has sent $1.1 billion in assistance to 167 nations. That includes 61,308 tons of food, 12,829 tons of medical supplies, 84,681 tons of clothing and 8.6 million hygiene, newborn and school kits.


I served a two year mission for the LDS church in the poorest region of the Philippines. I find it funny that two wealth white American boys, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, mock us for giving up two years of our lives on our own dime to serve people in devastated regions of the world. Their point is that Mormonism does nothing for these people. I beg to differ. It does wonders for them and it did wonders for me. I served thousands of Filipinos. I taught English classes, built huts, farmed, taught spiritual lesson, helped distribute humanitarian aid, spoke their language (Tagalog), and lived in utter poverty for two years. I understand what it is like to wash my own clothes by hand, be robbed, feel hunger, and work in extreme heat because of my mission. I wish the media would tell that side of the story not perpetuate a naive perception of two rich American boys who have never done anything for those in need of the world.

@ Taylor Willingham

Are you certain you want to say "giving up two years",..that smacks of negativity...
I also wonder if you actually did it on your own "dime". All around it may have been a good thing, yet,... it sounds as though as it were an aside to your regular lifestyle.

There are supposedly 2 camps and I have seen both. I support those who believe in themselves and have the great hope that others may do the same and so forth. Return on investment,...priceless,...

I cannot tell if any of the people posting comments have seen the musical.

No religion on Earth can hold up to close scrunity. Their beliefs all conflict with one another and are, well, to put it bluntly, not even interesting fiction. However, I've been around a lot of people from diferent churches and I have to admit that the Mormons are definately a bunch of sincerely nice, patriotic, and very succesful folks. And the ones I've met have a wonderful sense of humor and probably will be first in line at the box office. If I had to choose one religion, which thank God I don't, I think I'd choose Mormon.

Fearless? Write a mocking musical on Islam. See if you get the same response the Mormans had.


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