Published January 27, 2011
No one has seen Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s musical comedy “The Book of Mormon” yet. It doesn’t start previews on Broadway until the end of February. But early chatter from the Mormon community is already divided between those eager to see the show, and a more conservative group who views the play as another instance of persecution against their faith.
John Dehlin, 41, of Logan, Utah has already purchased his tickets to the Broadway musical and will be flying to New York with a group of 10 people (only one of whom isn’t Mormon) on March 25th.
He says he can’t wait.
“I’m super excited,” Dehlin, the founder of Mormon Stories podcasts, told FOX411. “I think this is our Mormon moment. The Jews had ‘Fiddler [on the Roof] ‘and the Catholics had ‘Sound of Music’ and now we have this.”
Dehlin calls himself a liberal member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are collectively referred to as Mormons. He says he knows many LDS members who are nervous about the upcoming show which features a book, music and lyrics written by “South Park” creators Parker and Stone and “Avenue Q” composer and co-creator Robert Lopez.
“When a lot of my orthodox LDS friends hear that 'South Park' is doing a musical about Mormonism they put their hands to their head and give a deep sigh and express sadness or frustration,” Dehlin said. "But my liberal friends are stoked!"
Brigham Young professor Daniel Peterson began his thoughts on the play with an audible sigh.
“The general reaction is ‘sigh’, ‘more of this’,” Peterson, who teaches Islamic Studies and Arabic at the Mormon University in Utah told FOX411. “We’re sort of accustomed to being made to look like idiots or villains so it is nothing new. You wouldn’t do this to Jews, you wouldn’t do this to blacks, but we’re still legit to kick around.”
Peterson isn’t a champion of the Parker and Stone project and won’t be flying to New York to see a performance, but he agrees with Dehlin that this could be a “Mormon moment.”
“The fact is we are a blip on the national radar screen, and there is something to be said for that,” Peterson said. “My feeling is it is better from our standpoint to be talked about than utterly ignored. I would rather be mocked because it gives me a chance to explain myself.”
Still, other LDS members have harsher words for the musical. Ezra Taylor a contributor for the website LDS Liberty, has no interest in seeing a play he believes will mock his faith.
“From the material on their official websites it looks like the typical sophomoric human stuck on tearing down instead of lifting up,” Taylor told FOX411. “Its vulgarity will be unappealing to anyone with a sense of self worth.”
Parker and Stone had no comment for this story, but they recently told Vogue magazine that they mean Mormons no harm.
“We love musicals, and we love Mormons,” Parker said. “I think if any Mormons come and stay all the way through, they’ll end up liking the show. I mean, it rips on them a lot, but in the end their spirit of wanting to help wins the day.”
The plot of the musical focuses on two mismatched Mormon missionaries who are sent to Africa and learn the hard way that the world is a very different place outside of Utah.
Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, took a diplomatic approach when asked the Church’s official stance on the show.
“The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but The Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change peoples’ lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ,” Farah said.
Still, some Mormons are just hoping the show will make them laugh.
When he first heard about the production, Loyd Erickson, a Mormon and graduate student living in Claremont, CA, knew that it would get some of his conservative friends riled up enough to call for a boycott of the show. So he created a satirical Facebook group called “Mormons Against Broadway - because of its obvious support of anti-Mormonism.”
“The reason I made it is that whenever there is some kind of perceived anti-Mormonism there is almost always an immediate response by Mormons urging a boycott. There was an immediate call to arms against ‘Big Love’ so when news broke out about this musical I created this page as a satire,” Erickson said. The group now has 86 members.
Erickson added that he believes “South Park” has actually shown a sense of respect for Mormons in the past when they have made light of the faith. He is hoping that the Broadway show is a success and makes its way out West so that he can see it on his student budget.
Joanna Brooks, who grew up in a conservative Mormon home, agrees that Parker and Stone seem to have a soft spot for her faith, despite their penchant for lampooning it. Brooks, who lives in San Francisco and writes for the online magazine Religion Dispatches, is also hoping for a production to make it to the West Coast.
“What we will see on Broadway will be something challenging and irreverent, but also riveting, entertaining and ultimately loving,” Brooks said. “Frankly, when Mormons are able to laugh at ourselves is when we will ultimately be a mature world religion.”