Is the 'Book of Mormon' musical accurate satire?

Published: Monday, June 13 2011 10:30 a.m. MDT

Contrary to the musical's portrayal, historical records indicate that at least 11 people signed testimonies indicating that Smith had shown them the Golden Plates. The accounts of these witnesses are printed in each copy of The Book of Mormon — but the song makes no mention of them.

In another song titled "I Believe," the character Elder Price repeatedly sings the refrain "I am a Mormon and a Mormon just believes." The refrain is interspersed with lines like "(God's) plan involves me getting my own planet." This statement, like many in the song, represents an out-of-context fragment of doctrine that, on its own, is inaccurate.

In the song, "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream," the character of Elder Price finds himself dreaming that he is in the midst of Hades' flames with the likes of Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and others. While the scene's absurdity lends itself easily to laughs by poking fun at strict LDS mission rules, it nonetheless dramatically distorts the LDS conception of a multi-tiered heaven (three kingdoms of glory) and outer darkness. The "hell" depicted in the musical is much closer to the fire-and-brimstone preaching of early Puritanical ministers.

Yet, Mormons are not the only ones misrepresented. The musical's characterization of Ugandans is perhaps worse.

Uganda

"Uganda is depicted as an entirely rural place, where many people still practice female genital mutilation (which is actually illegal in Uganda) and no one has a cell phone or access to the outside world. (In reality, between one-third and one-half of Ugandans have cell phones.)," wrote beliefnet.com blogger Jana Reiss, who is also a Mormon.

Additionally, the Ugandan characters in the musical are, with a few exceptions, angry, aggressive, sexually charged, physically ill, naive and vulgar. Some viewers could construe this extreme stereotyping as a form of racism — the producers and writers call it satire. Nevertheless, it is striking that Ugandan characters utter all the swear words in the musical except one.

Profanity

According to the musical's complete book and lyrics, those Ugandan characters utter plenty of swear words. The production contains at least 49 instances of the "f-word," and approximately 26 additional expletives.

It also includes sexual innuendos, references to HIV, rape, genital mutilation and homosexuality.

Newsweek, in a cover story on Mormons last week, wrote that "...the Book of Mormon may be the most obscene show ever brought to a Broadway stage."

The New York Times review of the play made a similar statement, calling it "more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak."

Email: hboyd@desnews.com

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