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Chris Hicks: Take high road with Parker and Stone's musical

Published: Thursday, Feb. 17 2011 6:41 p.m. MST

A couple of years ago I wrote a column about Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the "South Park" guys, and their proposed Broadway-bound "Mormon Musical."

After detailing how they have lampooned all things LDS since their earliest collaborations around 1993, I suggested it was time for the duo to find a new target.

After all, Mormons have figured in their movies, their animated TV series and even in the interviews they've granted over the years.

Some might argue that because Parker and Stone have satirized so many other religious sects besides The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and often been more vicious toward them — that Mormons should lighten up.

No argument here. But these guys do seem to have a strange fixation with the LDS Church that they just can't get over. Does it ever occur to them that they've been there, done that?

Anyway, at the time, who knew if "Mormon Musical" would even get off the ground? Broadway lore is littered with the remains of plays that were never mounted, productions that never opened and others that premiered to great fanfare only to close within a few weeks.

But here we are, more than two years later, and Parker and Stone's "Mormon Musical" has evolved into "The Book of Mormon" and is scheduled to open next month on the Great White Way in the Eugene O'Neill Theater (that noise you hear is O'Neill rolling over in his grave).

So how nasty will it be? Will it make fun of the people, the culture or the doctrine? Will it go after things that church members consider sacred or simply attack the usual targets (polygamy, the Mountain Meadows massacre, Proposition 8, etc.)? Will it have a gooey center that is ultimately warm toward Mormons, even as the faith is brutally skewered, as has been the case with Parker and Stone's other portrayals?

Despite the misleading title, "The Book of Mormon" is apparently not about the Book of Mormon. It follows a pair of U.S. missionaries who proselytize in Uganda, and it's a traditional musical, as have been some of Parker and Stone's other efforts, from "Cannibal! The Musical" to various episodes of "South Park."

So will it be original or just a more expensive variation on what we get locally each year with "Saturday's Voyeur"?

Everyone is pretty tight-lipped about the specifics, but as reviews begin to pour in over the next few weeks (it goes into previews next Thursday), we'll see.

And will it impact the church? Well, that one's easy. Not in the least.

Some of the LDS faithful are already calling for a boycott or protest, but the church itself, in an unusual move, has issued a statement that would seem to undermine such suggestions.

While the church and its members have long been spoofed or vilified in movies, on television and in stage plays (including some on Broadway), as well as books, magazines, comics and every other entertainment/art form you can name, it's rare that the subject is officially addressed.

But the church did release a brief statement Feb. 7 that specifically addresses the play, then refers readers to a March 2009 statement regarding "Big Love," when that HBO TV series was preparing to air an episode that took viewers inside an LDS temple.

It reads, in part: "(The church) does not call for boycotts. Such a step would simply generate the kind of controversy that the media loves and in the end would increase audiences."

Instead, church members are urged to "conduct themselves with dignity and thoughtfulness."

In other words, take the high road, to which I say, Amen!

If you play into the controversy generated by something like Parker and Stone's show, it just might backfire.

You may recall church member Terry Rakolta's 1989 outrage at the crass sitcom "Married … With Children," and how her well-intentioned and highly publicized call to arms for a boycott instead helped extend the life of that show by several years.

Even if "The Book of Mormon" is a smash hit, hey, it's just a play on a New York stage.

If it ran for years, the audience would still be relatively small — perhaps fewer than watch "South Park" every week.

And really, does anyone even know when "South Park" is on these days?

e-mail: hicks@desnews.com

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