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Why is The Book of Mormon so popular?

The Book of Mormon at Melbourne's Princess Theatre / Libby Kimber
The Book of Mormon at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre / Libby Kimber

The Book of Mormon has been making global headlines since it hit the Broadway stage in New York in January 2011.

The musical, from the minds behind South Park, follows the journey of two young Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda to spread the word and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The two men are met with disinterest from the locals, who are more preoccupied with warlords, famine and AIDS.

The Book of Mormon has, throughout it’s run, consistently sold out theatres and venues and in 2013 the musical smashed the British record for the highest number of West-End ticket sales in one day.

The musical has now landed at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne, earning rave reviews. The Guardian called the show a “visionary musical masterpiece”, and The Age heralded it an “un-PC delight”.

Creators Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and Robert Lopez say that they were expecting a lot of backlash for the show. Lopez told the Sydney Morning Herald  “We’d get really deep into the story, then we’d be like, what the hell are we doing here? This is crazy. We’re going to get crucified.”

It is hard to believe that a show that openly discusses religion, genital mutilation and warlords in Uganda in glitzy showbiz fashion could generate these kinds of reviews, let alone become one of the most successful musicals in the world. The Book of Mormon is offensive, but Stone, Parker and Lopez say that the key to being offensive is to take aim at everyone. Stone says “it’s one in, all in.”

The Church itself has responded in a surprising fashion; taking out advertisements for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the shows playbook. An Elder in the Church and the National Director of its Public Affairs office, Robert Dudfield, says that the church has started a campaign to counteract the messages portrayed in the musical. He wrote in ABC Religion and Ethics, ” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has chosen not to take offence or campaign against the musical, but to recognise the opportunity it presents to witness to our Christian faith”.

The Book of Mormon is crass and, at times, vulgar. However, it is really funny, and manages to deliver sombre content and discuss uncomfortable themes with ease – albeit with the help of a show tune. The creators of the show aimed to create a fun, upbeat musical with a deeper message; and have succeeded in doing just that.

The Book of Mormon is currently showing at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne.

Listen to the musical now on Spotify.

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