The Book of Mormon is a musical comedy about two young Mormon missionaries who travel to Africa to preach the Mormon religion. First staged in 2011, the play satirizes various Mormon beliefs and practices. The script, lyrics and music were written by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Best known for creating the animated comedy South Park, Parker and Stone co-created the music with Lopez, the co-composer/co-lyricist of Avenue Q, and, subsequently, Frozen.
The Book of Mormon follows two Mormon missionaries as they attempt to share their scriptures with the inhabitants of a remote Ugandan village. The earnest young men are challenged by the lack of interest of the locals, who are preoccupied with more pressing troubles such as AIDS, famine, and oppression from the local warlord.
In 2003, after Parker and Stone saw Avenue Q, they met with Lopez and began developing the musical, meeting sporadically for several years. Parker and Stone grew up in Colorado, and references to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had been commonplace in their previous works. For research, the trio took a trip to Salt Lake City to meet with current and former Mormon missionaries. Beginning in 2008, developmental workshops were staged. The show's producer, Scott Rudin, opted to open the show directly on Broadway.
The show opened on Broadway in March 2011, after nearly seven years of development. The LDS Church issued a polite, measured response to the musical, and purchased advertising space in its playbill in later runs. The Book of Mormon garnered overwhelmingly positive critical responses, and set records in ticket sales for the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. The show was awarded nine Tony Awards, one of which was for Best Musical, and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The original Broadway cast recording became the highest-charting Broadway cast album in over four decades, reaching number three on the Billboard charts. In 2013, the musical premiered in the West End. Since then, it has staged two US national tours.
The Book of Mormon was conceived by Robert Lopez, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone. Both Parker and Stone grew up in Colorado, and were familiar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and its members. The writers became friends at the University of Colorado Boulder. At the college, they collaborated on a musical film, Cannibal! The Musical (1993), their first experience with movie musicals. In 1997, they created the TV series South Park for Comedy Central and the 1999 musical film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. The two had first thought of a fictionalized Joseph Smith, religious leader and founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, while working on an aborted Fox series about historical characters. Their 1997 film, Orgazmo, and a 2003 episode of South Park, "All About Mormons", both gave comic treatment to Mormonism. Smith was also included as one of South Park's "Super Best Friends", a Justice League parody team of religious figures like Jesus and Buddha.
During the summer of 2003, Parker and Stone flew to New York City to discuss the script of their new film, Team America: World Police, with friend and producer Scott Rudin (who also produced South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut). Rudin advised the duo to see the musical Avenue Q on Broadway, finding the cast of marionettes in Team America similar to the puppets of Avenue Q. Parker and Stone went to see the production during that summer and the writer-composers of Avenue Q, Lopez and Jeff Marx, noticed them in the audience and introduced themselves. Lopez revealed that South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was highly influential in the creation of Avenue Q. The quartet went for drinks afterwards, and soon found that each camp wanted to write something involving Joseph Smith. The four began working out details nearly immediately, with the idea to create a modern story formulated early on. For research purposes, the quartet took a field trip to Salt Lake City where they "interviewed a bunch of missionaries—or ex-missionaries." They had to work around Parker and Stone's South Park schedule.
In 2006, Parker and Stone flew to London where they spent three weeks with Lopez, who was working on the West End production of Avenue Q. There, the three wrote "four or five songs" and came up with the basic idea of the story. After a disagreement between Parker and Marx, who felt he was not getting enough creative control, Marx was separated from the project. For the next few years, the remaining trio met frequently to develop what they initially called The Book of Mormon: The Musical of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "There was a lot of hopping back and forth between L.A. and New York," Parker recalled.
There are numerous revealed changes from original script to final production. A song named "Family Home Evening", which was in early workshops of the show, was cut. The warlord in Uganda was called General Kony in previews but later changed to General Butt Fucking Naked. The song "The Bible Is A Trilogy" went through a major rewrite to become "All-American Prophet". The earlier version was based around how the third movie in movie trilogies is always the best one and sums everything up which led to a recurring Matrix joke where a Ugandan man said "I thought the third Matrix was the worst one" which later changed to "I have maggots in my scrotum" in the rewritten version. The song "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" was originally called "H-E Double Hockey Sticks."
Lopez pushed to "workshop" the project, which baffled Parker and Stone, clueless about what he meant. Developmental workshops were directed by Jason Moore, and starred Cheyenne Jackson. Other actors in readings included Benjamin Walker and Daniel Reichard. The crew embarked on the first of a half-dozen workshops that would take place during the next four years, ranging from 30-minute mini-performances for family and friends to much larger-scale renderings of the embryonic show. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money, still unconvinced they would take it any further. In February 2008, a fully staged reading starred Walker and Josh Gad as Elders Price and Cunningham, respectively. Moore was originally set to direct, but left the production in June 2010. Other directors, including James Lapine, were optioned to join the creative team, but the producers recruited Casey Nicholaw. A final five-week workshop took place in August 2010, when Nicholaw came on board as choreographer and co-director with Parker.
Rudin was named as the producer of the show. Originally, Rudin planned to stage The Book of Mormon off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop in summer 2010, but opted to premiere it directly on Broadway, "[s]ince the guys [Parker and Stone] work best when the stakes are highest." Rudin booked the Eugene O'Neill Theatre and hired key players while sets were designed and built. Rudin expected the production to cost $11 million, but it came in under budget at $9 million. Hundreds of actors auditioned and 28 were cast. The crew did four weeks of rehearsals, with an additional two weeks of technical rehearsals, and then went directly into previews. The producers first heard the musical with the full pit six days before the first paying audience.
The Book of Mormon premiered on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on March 24, 2011, following previews since February 24. The production is choreographed by Casey Nicholaw and co-directed by Nicholaw and Parker. Set design is by Scott Pask, with costumes by Ann Roth, lighting by Brian MacDevitt, and sound by Brian Ronan. Orchestrations were co-created by Larry Hochman and the show's musical director and vocal arranger Stephen Oremus. The production was originally headlined by Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells in the two leading roles.
On April 25, 2011, the producers confirmed that "counterfeit tickets to the Broadway production had been sold to and presented by theatergoers on at least five different occasions". An article in The New York Times reported, "In each case, the tickets were purchased on Craigslist, and while a single seller is suspected, the ticket purchases have taken place in different locations each time. ... [T]he production's management and Jujamcyn Theaters, which operates the O'Neill, had notified the New York Police Department".
The New York production of The Book of Mormon employed an innovative pricing strategy, similar to the ones used in the airline and hotel industries. The producers charged as much as $477 for the best seats for performances with particularly high demand. The strategy paid off handsomely. During its first year, the show was consistently one of the top five best-selling shows on Broadway and set 22 new weekly sales records for the Eugene O'Neill Theater. For the week of Thanksgiving 2011, the average paid admission was over $170 even though the highest-priced regular seat was listed at $155. High attendance coupled with aggressive pricing allowed the financial backers to recoup their investment of $11.4 million after just nine months of performances.
After Gad's departure in June 2012, standby Jared Gertner played the role, until June 26 when Cale Krise permanently took over the role as Gertner left to play Elder Cunningham in the First National Tour. Two days after Gad left (June 2012), original star Rannells was replaced by his standby Nic Rouleau. The same day, Samantha Marie Ware played Nabulungi on Broadway as the start of a 6-week engagement (James was shooting a film) in preparation for her tour performance. Following Rouleau's departure in November 2012 (to originate the role of Elder Price in Chicago), the role of Elder Price was taken over by Matt Doyle. In December 2012, Jon Bass joined as Elder Cunningham. Original cast member Rory O'Malley was replaced by Matt Loehr in January 2013. In April 2013, Stanley Wayne Mathis joined the cast as Mafala Hatimbi. In May 2013, Jon Bass left the role of Elder Cunningham, and was replaced by Cody Jamison Strand. After Doyle and Strand's contracts finished in January 2014, Rouleau and Ben Platt (who had previously played the role of Elder Cunningham while in Chicago with Rouleau) joined the Broadway cast to reprise their roles as Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. On August 26, 2014 Grey Henson took over for Loehr as Elder McKinley. Henson had previously played the role on the First National Tour. Rouleau and Platt left Broadway in January 2015. They were replaced by Gavin Creel and Christopher John O'Neill who played the roles of Price and Cunningham (respectively) on the First National Tour. On January 3, 2016 Creel left the show after three and a half years with The Book of Mormon. He was replaced by Kyle Selig, former Second National Tour Elder Price standby, who is scheduled to play the role through February 21, 2016. On January 25, 2016, Christopher John O'Neill was temporarily replaced by longtime Elder Cunningham standby Nyk Bielak. Bielak has been a standby for Elder Cunningham on all three North American companies before becoming the Broadway Elder Cunningham. On February 17, 2016 Nic Rouleau announced via Twitter that he would be taking over the role of Elder Price starting on February 23, 2016. This will be Rouleau's third time playing the role on Broadway; he previously played the role in Chicago, the Second National Tour, and most recently, the West End. O'Neill and Rouleau's first performance together was on February 23, 2016. August 21, 2016 was Grey Henson's last performance as Elder McKinley. On August 23, 2016, Henson was replaced by Stephen Ashfield who came over from the West End Production. On November 7, 2016, Nikki Rene Daniels announced she was pregnant with her second child, and would be going on maternity leave. Later that week, Kim Exum then took over the role of Nabalungi. On February 20, 2017 Chris O'Neill and Daniel Breaker had their final performances as Elder Cunningham and Mafala Hatimbi. O'Neill was replaced by Brian Sears, who came over from the London Production. Breaker was replaced by Billy Eugene Jones. Other Broadway cast members include, Original Broadway Cast member Lewis Cleale as Joseph Smith/Mission President and other roles, and Derrick Williams as the General.
First U.S. national tour (2012–2016)
The first North American tour began previews on August 14, 2012 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in Denver, Colorado, before moving to the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles beginning September 5, with the official opening night for the tour on September 12. Originally planned to begin in December 2012, production was pushed forward four months. Gavin Creel (Price) and Jared Gertner (Cunningham) led the cast until late December when West End performer Mark Evans and Christopher John O'Neill took over, allowing time for Creel and Gertner to begin rehearsals for their move to the West End production. After Evans left the show on June 30, 2014, Broadway Elder Price stand-by, K.J. Hippensteel, temporarily covered as Elder Price. Hippensteel returned to Broadway and Ryan Bondy (who was covering for Hippensteel as the Broadway Elder Price stand-by) took over the role of Elder Price. Bondy continued on as Elder Price until Creel returned from London later in the summer of 2014. When Creel and O'Neill left the touring production to join the Broadway production, Bondy again took over the role of Elder Price while Chad Burris took over for O'Neill as Elder Cunningham. The two were only leads for six weeks as they waited for replacements to come from the West End Production. Billy Harrigan Tighe and A.J. Holmes moved over from the West End production to reprise their roles as Elder's Price and Cunningham, respectively. Bondy and Burris then returned to the Second National Tour as stand-bys for Elder Price and Elder Cunningham.
As part of the tour, the musical was performed in Salt Lake City for the first time at the end of July and early August 2015.
The tour closed on May 1, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The first replica sit-down production, separate from the tour, began previews on December 11, 2012, and officially opened on December 19 of that year, at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago, Illinois as part of Broadway in Chicago. The limited engagement closed October 6, 2013 and became the second U.S. national tour. The cast included Nic Rouleau in the role of Price, along with Ben Platt as Cunningham.
West End (2013–)
A UK production debuted in the West End on February 25, 2013 at the Prince of Wales Theatre. Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner reprised their North American tour performances. The London cast members hosted a gala performance of the new musical on March 13, 2013, raising £200,000 for the British charity Comic Relief's Red Nose Day. A typical London performance runs two hours and 30 minutes, including an interval of 15 minutes. In March 2014, The Book of Mormon was voted Funniest West End Show as part of the 2014 West End Frame Awards. On July 28, 2014, both Creel and Gertner left the production. Creel left the West End production to return to the 1st National Tour and was replaced by his stand-by, Billy Harrigan Tighe. Gertner was replaced by one of his stand-by's, A.J. Holmes, who had previously played Cunningham on both the National Tour and Broadway.
After February 2, 2015, Broadway actor Nic Rouleau, cast in the role Elder Kevin Price replaced Billy Harrigan Tighe, and Brian Sears, who also starred on Broadway (as an ensemble member), replaced A.J. Holmes as Elder Cunningham. Tighe and Holmes then joined the cast of the 1st National Tour, filling the void that was there when Creel and O'Neill left the tour to play the leads on Broadway. On January 25, 2016 Rouleau announced via Twitter that January 30, 2016 will be his last performance as Elder Price in the West End. On February 1, 2016, longtime Broadway stand-by K.J. Hippensteel officially took over the role as Elder Price in the West End cast. On August 6, 2016 Stephen Ashfield had his last performance as Elder McKinley, as he was transferring over to the Broadway Production. On August 9, 2016 Steven Webb took over for Ashfield as Elder McKinley. On January 28, 2017 Brian Sears performed his last performance in the West End. Sears left London to join the Broadway company on February 20th. Sears was replaced by longtime Second National Tour Elder Cunningham, Cody Jamison Strand. Strand's first performance was on January 30th, 2017.
Second U.S. national tour (2013–)
After the Chicago production closed on October 6, 2013, the same production began touring the U.S. Platt never went on tour with the production and Rouleau performed in only a few cities on the tour before they both moved to New York and started rehearsals in preparation of joining the Broadway production. David Larsen succeeded Nic Rouleau as Elder Price. A.J. Holmes succeeded Ben Platt as Elder Cunningham. Cody Jamison Strand then succeeded A.J. Holmes in the role. December 14, 2014 was Pierce Cassedy's last performance as Elder McKinley. He was replaced by former Broadway swing Daxton Bloomquist. On January 3, 2016, Larsen completed his final show as Elder Price. Larsen was replaced by his stand-by, Ryan Bondy. Gabe Gibbs replaced Bondy as Elder Price in October 2016. Oge Agulué replaced David Aron Damane as the General in December 2016. On January 1, 2017 Cody Jamison Strand had his last performance as Elder Cunningham. Strand left the show to join the West End Production. Strand was replaced by Connor Pierson on January 3, 2017. Other cast members include Kim Exum as Nabulungi and Sterling Jarvis as Mafala Hatimbi.
Future productions, venues
Book of Mormon opened in Australia at Melbourne's Princess Theatre on January 18, 2017. Auditions were held in January 2016 in Sydney and Melbourne; rehearsals began in November. In November 2016, it was announced that Ryan Bondy and A.J. Holmes would reprise their roles as Elder Price and Elder Cunningham respectively. Zahra Newman will play Nabulungi, Bert Labonté will play Mafala, and Rowan Witt will play Elder McKinley. The first non-English version of the musical opened at the Chinateatern in Stockholm, Sweden, in January 2017. The musical is scheduled to play in Denmark at Copenhagen's Det Ny Teater during the 2017/18 season. A Norwegian production is planned for 2017 at Det Norske Teateret in Oslo.
At LDS Church Missionary Training Center, devout, handsome, supercilious missionary-to-be Elder Kevin Price leads his classmates in a demonstration of the door-to-door method to convert people to Mormonism ("Hello!"). Price believes if he prays enough, he will be sent to Orlando, Florida for his two-year mission, but to his shock, he and Elder Arnold Cunningham, an insecure, compulsive liar, are sent to Uganda as a pair ("Two By Two"). Price is sure he is destined to do something incredible, while Cunningham is just happy to follow. ("You and Me (But Mostly Me)").
Upon arrival in northern Uganda, the two are robbed by soldiers of a local warlord, General Butt-Fucking Naked (an allusion to the real General Butt Naked). They are welcomed to the village where a group of villagers share their daily reality of living in appalling conditions while being ruled by the General. To make their lives seem better, the villagers repeat a phrase that translates as "Fuck you, God!" ("Hasa Diga Eebowai").
Price and Cunningham are led to their living quarters by Nabulungi, where they meet their fellow missionaries stationed in the area, who have been unable to convert anyone to Mormonism. Elder McKinley, the district leader, teaches Price and Cunningham a widely accepted method of dealing with the negative and upsetting feelings ("Turn It Off"). Though Price is riddled with anxiety, Cunningham reassures him that he will succeed and that as his partner, Cunningham, will be by his side no matter what ("I Am Here for You").
Price is certain that he can succeed where the other Mormon elders have failed, teaching the villagers about Joseph Smith through a song that begins as a tribute to Smith but eventually descends into a tribute by Price to himself ("All-American Prophet"). The General arrives and announces his demand for the genital mutilation of all female villagers. After a villager protests, the General executes him. Safely hiding back at home, Nabulungi, moved by Price's promise of an earthly paradise, dreams of a better life in a new land ("Sal Tlay Ka Siti").
The Mission President has requested a progress report on their mission. Shocked by the execution and the reality of Africa, Price decides to abandon his mission and requests a transfer to Orlando, while Cunningham, ever loyal, assures Price he will follow him anywhere ("I Am Here For You [Reprise]"). However, Price unceremoniously dumps him as mission companion. Cunningham is crushed and alone, but when Nabulungi comes to him, wanting to learn more about the Book of Mormon and having convinced the villagers to listen to him, Cunningham finds the courage to take control of the situation ("Man Up").
When his audience begins to get frustrated and leave, Cunningham quickly makes up stories by combining what he knows of Mormon doctrines with pieces of science fiction and fantasy. Cunningham's conscience (personified by his father, Joseph Smith, hobbits, Lt. Uhura, Darth Vader, and Yoda) admonishes him, but he rationalizes that if it helps people, it surely cannot be wrong ("Making Things Up Again").
Price joyfully arrives in Orlando but then realizes that he is dreaming. He is reminded of the nightmares of hell he had as a child and panics when his nightmare begins once again ("Spooky Mormon Hell Dream"). Price awakens and decides to re-commit to his mission.
Cunningham announces several Ugandans are interested in the church. McKinley points out that unless the General is dealt with, no one will convert. Price, seeing the chance to prove his worth, sets off on the "mission he was born to do". After re-affirming his faith, he confronts the General determined to convert him ("I Believe"). The General is unimpressed and drags Price away; Price is next seen in the village doctor's office, having the Book of Mormon removed from his rectum.
Cunningham concludes his preaching and the villagers are baptized, with Nabulungi and Cunningham sharing a tender moment as they do ("Baptize Me"). The Mormon missionaries feel oneness with the people of Uganda and celebrate ("I Am Africa"). Meanwhile, the General hears of the villagers' conversion and resolves to kill them all.
Having lost his faith, Price drowns his sorrows in coffee. Cunningham finds Price and tells him they need to at least act like mission companions, as the Mission President is coming to visit the Ugandan mission. Price reflects on all the broken promises the Church, his parents, his friends and life in general made to him ("Orlando").
Nabulungi and the villagers perform a pageant to "honor [them] with the story of Joseph Smith, the American Moses" ("Joseph Smith American Moses"), which reflects the distortions put forth by Cunningham. The Mission President is appalled, orders all the missionaries to go home, and tells Nabulungi that she and her fellow villagers are not Mormons. Nabulungi, heartbroken at the thought that she will never reach paradise, curses God for forsaking her ("Hasa Diga Eebowai [Reprise]"). Price has had an epiphany and realizes Cunningham was right all along: though scriptures are important, what is more important is getting the message across ("You and Me (But Mostly Me) [Reprise]").
The General arrives, and Nabulungi is ready to submit to him, telling the villagers that the stories Cunningham told them are untrue. To her shock, they respond that they have always known that the stories were metaphors rather than the literal truth. Price rallies the Mormons and the Ugandans to work together to make this their paradise. In an imagined future, the newly minted Ugandan elders go door to door to evangelize "The Book of Arnold." ("Tomorrow Is a Latter Day"/"Hello! (Reprise)"/"Finale").
† This song is not on the cast album.
The Book of Mormon uses a nine-member orchestra:
Reeds (Flute, Piccolo, Alto, Tenor Saxophones, Clarinet, Oboe, Bansuri, Soprano and Alto Recorders)
Trumpet (doubling Piccolo Trumpet and Flugelhorn)
Trombone (doubling Bass Trombone)
Guitars (Electric, Acoustic, Classical and Archtop)
Basses (Electric, Fretless and Upright)
Original Broadway cast recording
A cast recording of the original Broadway production was released on May 17, 2011, by Ghostlight Records. All of the songs featured on stage are present on the recording with the exception of "I Am Here For You" (Reprise), "Orlando" (Reprise), "Hasa Diga Eebowai" (Reprise) and "You and Me (But Mostly Me)" (Reprise). "Hello" (Reprise) and the "Encore" are attached to the end of the last track of the CD, titled, "Tomorrow Is a Latter Day". A free preview of the entire recording was released on NPR starting on May 9, 2011. Excerpts from the cast recording are featured in an extended Fresh Air interview.
During its first week of its iTunes Store release, the recording became "the fastest-selling Broadway cast album in iTunes history," according to representatives for the production, ranking No. 2 on its day of release on the iTunes Top 10 Chart. According to Playbill, "It's a rare occurrence for a Broadway cast album to place among the iTunes best sellers." The record has received positive reviews, with Rolling Stone calling the recording an "outstanding album that highlights the wit of the lyrics and the incredible tunefulness of the songs while leaving you desperate to score tickets to see the actual show." Although the cast album had a respectable debut on the US Billboard 200 chart in its initial week of release, after the show's success at the 2011 Tony Awards, the record rapidly ascended the chart to number three, making it the highest-charting Broadway cast album in over four decades.
A vinyl version is planned.
Characters and cast members
The principal cast members of all major productions of The Book of Mormon.
Themes and references
The Book of Mormon contains many religious themes, most notably those of faith and doubt. Although the musical satirizes organized religion and the literal credibility of the LDS Church, the Mormons in The Book of Mormon are portrayed as well-meaning and optimistic, if a little naïve and unworldly. In addition, the central theme that many religious stories are rigid, out of touch, and silly comes to the conclusion that, essentially, religion itself can do enormous good as long as it is taken metaphorically and not literally. Matt Stone, one of the show's creators, described The Book of Mormon as "an atheist's love letter to religion."
The opening scenes of Act I and II parody the Hill Cumorah Pageant.
The Book of Mormon received broad critical praise for the plot, score, actors' performances, direction and choreography. Vogue Magazine called the show "the filthiest, most offensive, and—surprise—sweetest thing you'll see on Broadway this year, and quite possibly the funniest musical ever." New York Post reported that audience members were "sore from laughing so hard". It praised the score, calling it "tuneful and very funny," and added that "the show has heart. It makes fun of organized religion, but the two Mormons are real people, not caricatures."
Ben Brantley of The New York Times compared the show favorably to Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I and The Sound of Music but "rather than dealing with tyrannical, charismatic men with way too many children, our heroes... must confront a one-eyed, genocidal warlord with an unprintable name... That's enough to test the faith of even the most optimistic gospel spreaders (not to mention songwriters). Yet in setting these dark elements to sunny melodies The Book of Mormon achieves something like a miracle. It both makes fun of and ardently embraces the all-American art form of the inspirational book musical. No Broadway show has so successfully had it both ways since Mel Brooks adapted his film The Producers for the stage a decade ago." Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, spent much of his interview with Parker and Stone on the March 10, 2011 episode praising the musical.
Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times praised the music, and stated: "The songs, often inspired lampoons of contemporary Broadway styles, are as catchy as they are clever." McNulty concluded by stating "Sure it's crass, but the show is not without good intentions and, in any case, vindicates itself with musical panache." Peter Marks of the Washington Post wrote: "The marvel of The Book of Mormon is that even as it profanes some serious articles of faith, its spirit is anything but mean. The ardently devout and comedically challenged are sure to disagree. Anyone else should excitedly approach the altar of Parker, Stone and Lopez and expect to drink from a cup of some of the sweetest poison ever poured." Marks further describes the musical as "one of the most joyously acidic bundles Broadway has unwrapped in years."
However, The Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout called the show "slick and smutty: The Book of Mormon is the first musical to open on Broadway since La Cage aux Folles that has the smell of a send-in-the-tourists hit. ... The amateurish part relates mostly to the score, which is jointly credited to the three co-creators and is no better than what you might hear at a junior-varsity college show. The tunes are jingly-jangly, the lyrics embarrassingly ill-crafted." Other critics have called the show "crassly commercial" as well as "dull" and "derivative".
The show's depiction of Africans has been called racist. NPR's Janice Simpson notes that "the show doesn't work unless the villagers are seen mainly as noble savages who need white people to show them the way to enlightenment." She expands her critique to discuss the inherent flaws of "equal-opportunity" offense within the musical. Max Perry Mueller of Harvard writes that "The Book of Mormon producers worked so hard to get the 'Mormon thing' right, while completely ignoring the Ugandan culture". The Aid Leap blog noted that "the gleeful depiction of traditional stereotypes about Africa (dead babies, warlord, HIV, etc) reinforced rather than challenged general preconceptions", and "the Africans are just a background to the emotional development of the Mormons".
LDS Church response
The response of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the musical has been described as "measured." The church released an official response to inquiries regarding the musical, stating, "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." Michael Otterson, the head of Public Affairs for the church, followed in April 2011 with measured criticism. "Of course, parody isn't reality, and it's the very distortion that makes it appealing and often funny. The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously—if they leave a theater believing that Mormons really do live in some kind of a surreal world of self-deception and illusion," Otterson wrote, outlining various humanitarian efforts achieved by Mormon missionaries in Africa since the early 2000s. Stone and Parker were unsurprised:
The official church response was something along the lines of "The Book of Mormon the musical might entertain you for a night, but the Book of Mormon,"—the book as scripture—"will change your life through Jesus." Which we actually completely agree with. The Mormon church's response to this musical is almost like our Q.E.D. at the end of it. That's a cool, American response to a ribbing—a big musical that's done in their name. Before the church responded, a lot of people would ask us, "Are you afraid of what the church would say?" And Trey and I were like, "They're going to be cool." And they were like, "No, they're not. There are going to be protests." And we were like, "Nope, they're going to be cool." We weren't that surprised by the church's response. We had faith in them.
The LDS Church has advertised in the playbills at many of the musical's venues to encourage attendees to learn more about the Book of Mormon, with phrases like "you've seen the play, now read the book" and "the book is always better."
In Melbourne during the 2017 run, the Church advertised at Southern Cross railway station and elsewhere in the city, as well as on television with ads featuring prominent Australian Mormons, including rugby player Will Hopoate, stage actor Patrice Tipoki and ballet dancer Jake Mangakahia.
Mormons themselves have had varying responses to the musical. Richard Bushman, professor of Mormon studies, said of the musical, "Mormons experience the show like looking at themselves in a fun-house mirror. The reflection is hilarious but not really you. The nose is yours but swollen out of proportion." Bushman said that the musical was not meant to explain Mormon belief, and that many of the ideas in Elder Price's "I Believe" (like God living on a planet called Kolob), though having some roots in Mormon belief, are not doctrinally accurate.
When asked in January 2015 if he had met Mormons who disliked the musical, Gad stated "In the 1.5 years I did that show, I never got a single complaint from a practicing Mormon ... To the contrary, I probably had a few people – a dozen – tell me they were so moved by the show that they took up the Mormon faith."
Awards and honors
Portrayals of Mormons in popular media
The Book of Mormon: the Testament of a Broadway Musical Book, Music, and Lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, & Matt Stone. Text, New Interviews, and Annotations by Steven Suskin. Principal photography by Joan Marcus. Design by BLT Communications. NY: HarperCollins, ISBN 9780062234940.
The Book of Mormon: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical . Newmarket Press, 2011 ISBN 9781557049933.
Official West End website
The Book of Mormon at the Internet Broadway Database
The Book of Mormon at Playbill Vault
"The Book of Mormon Musical Tour Update"
"Trey Parker & Matt Stone Talk Book Of Mormon on The Daily Show", Huffington Post, March 11, 2011
Charlie Rose – "Trey Parker & Matt Stone"
Cast Recording for The Book of Mormon from NPR's First Listen
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: church outreach site