The controversial musical from the creators of ‘South Park’ and ‘Avenue Q’ has just announced an extended run in Manchester for the first leg of its UK tour. It was originally set to run from 6th June to 13th July, but due to such overwhelmingly high demand, shows have been added between 15th and 27th July. Since opening on Broadway in 2013, the Book of Mormon has secured over 30 international awards, including nine Tony Awards, four Olivier Awards, a Grammy and many others. It’s also broken all kinds of records when it comes to racking up revenue and marking the biggest day of West End sales (£2 million in just 14 hours), grossing over $500million in ticket sales to date. But what is it about the musical that makes everyone scurry to the theatre? Why is the Book of Mormon so popular among theatre-goers?
The main premise of the musical is that it plays with the theme of religion. But not only this, there are also storylines involving topics of female genital mutilations, war, poverty, colonialism, homosexuality, AIDS and more. It’s basically a melting pot of some of the world’s most sensitive issues drawn out with songs and humour. Like it or loathe it, we couldn’t really have expected anything different from the creators of ‘South Park’. But it turns out that the controversy entwined in the musical has certainly set the show apart from other seemingly more ‘PC’ shows. Theatre-goers are now able to see something totally original and totally atypical of traditional shows, pushing the boundaries and unafraid to offend.
Interestingly, many reports have claimed that leaders or representatives of the Latter Day Saints have not been offended. In fact, the musical has helped draw attention to the faith, where they even purchased advertising space to promote the religion. The Book of Mormon musical even ran in Salt Lake City, Utah; the HQ of Mormonism, in 2015 and again in 2017 due to popular demand.
The Book of Mormon is the first Broadway musical album in four decades to reach as high as third position in the Billboard charts. Another accolade that arguably owes its achievement to the controversial nature of the show; the album is full of offensive lyrics and tongue-in-cheek one-liners. The first musical number is ‘Hello’, which pokes fun at the religion’s activity of knocking on people’s doors. Though it has an air of mockery...things have only just got started. It’s not long before songs start spurning out lyrics like “We’ve had no rain in several days! Hasa Diga Eebowai! And 80% of us have AIDS! Hasa Diga Eebowai”, “My hetero side just won! I'm all better now, Boys should be with girls, That's heavenly father's plan” and “Many young girls here get circumcised, their clits get cut right off”. Sung out to a backdrop of dancing and upbeat melodies, The Book of Mormon musical thoroughly intends to shock through its songs.
As we’ve already mentioned several times, the distinctive USP of The Book of Mormon musical that makes it so popular surrounds its controversy. But apart from being outright outrageous, it is actually funny. It comes at the expense of Mormons predominantly, but the humour is almost so vulgar at times - and so universally offensive - that it takes on the role of being more ludacris than hurtful. It aims to make light of its hard-hitting humour with plays on Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and other elements of pop culture, adding to its absurdity and showing that while it intends to shock, its dominant goal is to make you laugh.
Ingrained in the musical, in spite of all the quips and pokes, The Book of Mormon actually has a moral message running through its veins. It’s a tale of acceptance, a story of friendship, a plot that raises awareness of some of the most prominent issues in contemporary international society. The Independent’s Sarah Hughes reflected on the show as having a ‘surprisingly tender core’, with lead characters that always have the concept of a utopia in their hearts and strive to change the world for the better.
It also challenges the predominantly white lens perspective of history through its plots and humour, which is why it chooses to utilise stereotypes in farcical fashion i.e. direct Lion King references for Africa. Additionally, one of the show’s creators, Matt Stone, professed The Book of Mormon is an ‘atheist's love letter to religion’, as it may appear on the surface to be all about poking fun at Mormonism, but it actually paints the faith in a much more positive light.
One of the leading reasons why The Book of Mormon musical was so popular upon opening in the UK is down to the British affection for the creators’ notable cartoon comedy ‘South Park’. The animation has run since it debuted in the 90’s, surviving other programmes in its ability to continue exposing and cutting through ‘ideas we clothe essential human experience in’ (Den of Geek). So naturally, when everyone heard that the show’s creators were making a musical, there was already a buzz before the musical even opened. And it hasn’t disappointed, using the same satirical humour but with a fantastic soundtrack, original storyline and live action Broadway-style production.
In fact, The Book of Mormon has changed the face of theatre-goers. Its appeal is so broad, that people of all backgrounds (arguably above the age of 18 and under the age of 70) are heading to theatres to see the show.
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