The Los Angeles Times has a roundup of the reviews of "The Book of Mormon" this week, and the sense they get is that the reviews have been stellar. That may mean this musical is in for a long run.
Here's a sampling:
From the L.A. Times review: "Sure it’s crass, but the show is not without good intentions and, in any case, vindicates itself with musical panache."
The New York Times: "This is to all the doubters and deniers out there, the ones who say that heaven on Broadway does not exist, that it’s only some myth our ancestors dreamed up. I am here to report that a newborn, old-fashioned, pleasure-giving musical has arrived at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, the kind our grandparents told us left them walking on air if not on water. So hie thee hence, nonbelievers (and believers too), to 'The Book of Mormon,' and feast upon its sweetness." And this: "A major point of 'The Book of Mormon' is that when looked at from a certain angle, all the forms of mythology and ritual that allow us to walk through the shadows of daily life and death are, on some level, absurd; that’s what makes them so valiant and glorious."
The Washington Post: "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."
Because I plan on exercising my First Amendment Rights by not seeing this musical — I sense it would garner a heavy R rating were it a movie, judging from the reviews — I will take their word for it that it is funny. I will also try to assume that while they make fun of my religion, they mean it in a good way, if that is possible.
I also assume, however, that I am to take it that I may be either comedically challenged or ardently devout if I don't appreciate this musical's premise in the first place. I wonder if these reviewers would think so if something so special to them was made the subject of laughter and portrayed as absurd. That is good reason for anyone to take offense. But, OK. I need to lighten up sometimes.
The church's response to not make much of this musical and to invite people to actually read the Book of Mormon is spot-on. If the attention this musical receives impels more people to read the actual Book of Mormon, more power to it. I have said before, I do not find my belief absurd, nor do I hold to my religion as some vague way of walking me through the storms of life. I would say my faith isn't vague, so I take issue with the premise of some of these reviewers.
The truth is, however, that this musical doesn't threaten me, and it shouldn't threaten anyone, even though, make no mistake, I don't like what I read about it.
It seems that every few years creators of pop culture use Mormonism as a way to make a living or to make a point. In that, this musical is nothing new. Whether it has a long life or not, this musical, too, shall pass.
For example, the first Sherlock Holmes mystery featured Mormons as villains. Jack London wrote a short story with Mormons as villains. Zane Grey did the same. Mark Twain made fun of Mormons. Cosmopolitan magazine produced some of the vilest anti-Mormon stuff ever produced. In our more modern era, Tony Kushner won many awards for his play, "Angels in America," with Mormons as not villains but as antagonists to the story of America he wanted to tell.
The Book of Mormon musical is another in a long line. Careers will likely take off as a result. Money will be made at the expense of Joseph Smith and my faith. So what? I can be grateful that this musical isn't what many of those older writers wrote and at least pretends to avoid attacking Mormons directly.
If being Mormon has taught me anything, it is that I need to be a Christian. To the degree that the premise of this musical offends me, I will try to remember to turn the other cheek. If I do that well, and I hope I will, it will reflect well on the teachings I so love. Through that, maybe a few people will come to understand that my Mormon beliefs aren't so absurd.
Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.
As the Mormon Media Observer, Lane is interested in hearing your ideas for stories at email@example.com.