The Book of Mormon is a musical comedy with music, lyrics, and book by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. First staged in 2011, the play is a satirical examination of the beliefs and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The musical ultimately endorses the positive power of love and service, according to David Brooks of The New York Times. Parker and Stone were best known for creating the animated comedy South Park; Lopez had co-written the music for the musical Avenue Q.
In 2003, after Parker and Stone saw Avenue Q, they joined forces with Lopez, the musical's co-writer, meeting sporadically for several years. Parker and Stone grew up in Colorado, and references to the Church 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 producers, Scott Rudin and Anne Garefino, opted to open the show directly on Broadway.
The show opened in March 2011, after nearly seven years of development. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded indifferently; however, they did purchase 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, including 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, followed by two US national tours. A production in Melbourne and the first non-English version, in Stockholm, both opened in January 2017. Productions in Oslo and Copenhagen followed.
The Book of Mormon was conceived by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez. Parker and Stone grew up in Colorado, and were familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members. They became friends at the University of Colorado Boulder and 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 in 1999, the 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.
Producers Scott Rudin and Anne Garefino originally 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 and Garefino booked the Eugene O'Neill Theatre and hired key players while sets were designed and built. The producers 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 watched the finished production 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 was choreographed by Casey Nicholaw and co-directed by Nicholaw and Parker. Set design was 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.
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 first national tour and was replaced by his stand-by, Billy Harrigan Tighe. Gertner was replaced by one of his stand-bys, A. J. Holmes, who had previously played Cunningham on both the national tour and Broadway.
The first non-English version of the musical opened at the Chinateatern in Stockholm, Sweden, in January 2017. A Norwegian production opened at Det Norske Teatret in Oslo, Norway September 2017 to favorable reviews with demand crashing the ticketing website. The musical opened in Denmark at Copenhagen's Det Ny Teater in January 2018, as well as in Amsterdam, Netherlands on September 26, 2019. The Show opened in Cologne, Germany on November 7, 2019 and played in Zurich, Switzerland in December 2019. In Aarhus, Denmark the original Broadway production in English began on November 20, 2019 and ran until December 6.
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 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 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."
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.
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 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 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."
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.
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In addition to the streams and airings on PBS and BYUtv, this Christmas special with Megan Hilty and Neal McDonough is available as an album or DVD titled O Holy Night: Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir and beautifully illustrated book titled Come to Him This Holy Night: Three Irish Christmas Traditions.
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