SALT LAKE CITY — Even before the profane, irreverent but critically acclaimed Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon" first opened in March 2011, critics questioned if it could ever play in Utah.
But after three years as a smash hit on Broadway and on tour around the United States and in London — and three years of increasing respect for the "smart" responses of the LDS Church, its missionaries and its members to a show that objective critics say is "offensive" in its portrayals of them — the Tony Award-winning musical is scheduled to run in Salt Lake City's Capitol Theatre from July 28-Aug. 9, 2015.
“Patrons of the musical aren’t likely to leave the theater with a better understanding of the Book of Mormon," church spokeswoman Jessica Moody said Friday, restating the longstanding view at the faith's Salt Lake City headquarters. "Our message in the playbill invites the audience to seek a more complete perspective on the book, its Christ-centered message and its place in Mormon belief, which is why we’ve run advertisements in every city this year."
News broke Friday afternoon after an email was sent to current Broadway Across America season ticketholders, offering them the first chance at tickets.
The satirical "Book of Mormon" won the Tony Award for Best Musical and is known for what some have characterized as a blasphemous portrayal of Mormon missionaries and their faith, and for profanity that has been described as "relentless." In March, a British reviewer wrote, "I believe it could be the most expletive-driven, jaw-droppingly shocking and gasp-inducingly offensive show the West End has ever witnessed," after the musical opened in London.
"There was a warning on my ticket — 'Parental advisory: explicit language,'" the Telegraph's Paul Clements added, "but it doesn’t begin to cover how profane things get."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released its first statement about the show after critics had screened it but before it opened in March 2011:
“The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening," that statement said, "but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”
Three months after the musical opened, the church launched its "I'm a Mormon" campaign in New York with ads on billboards, taxi cabs and in subways.
When the musical went on tour for the first time, opening in Los Angeles in September 2012, public relations professionals and media outlets praised the church for the ads it bought in the playbill.
The ads featured photos of church members, one accompanied by the words, "I've read the book" and another with the statement, "The book is always better."
As the tour continued around the country, actual Mormon missionaries turned out nightly in places like Durham, N.C., to offer the real Book of Mormon or information about the church to theatergoers.
The Tampa Tribune reported that on the show's second night in Tampa, six LDS missionaries "gave out 350 'pass-along cards' that give the church's website and a QR code to scan a digital copy of the Book of Mormon, the church's sacred text."
In Boston, two LDS missionaries gave out 40 copies of the book in less than an hour, according to a Huffington Post story that included the conversion story of one theatergoer.
"(Talking to people outside the theater) made it possible for us to say, 'We're real missionaries,'" Elder Jacob Chapman said in the story. "'This is what we do. This is the real thing, and we're offering you something that may be memorabilia for you to put on your shelf, but it will change your life if you actually read it.'"
Those reponses were right in line with comments made by Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout and the musical's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
Teachout called the musical flabby because the target was easy.
"The creators of 'South Park' like to call themselves 'equal-opportunity offenders,'" Teachout wrote, "but if you think there's anything risky about 'The Book of Mormon,' you're kidding yourself. Making fun of Mormons in front of a Broadway crowd is like shooting trout in a demitasse cup. And while we're on the subject of imitation courage, let it be duly noted that if the title of this show were 'The Quran,' it wouldn't have opened. Messrs. Parker and Stone found that out the hard way a year ago when online death threats caused Comedy Central executives to censor an episode of 'South Park' in which the Prophet Muhammad was shown wearing a bear costume. The boys have learned their lesson well: Never shoot at anybody who shoots back."
Indeed, Stone and Parker told the Chicago Tribune they don't touch Islam anymore.
When the musical opened in London, the church published a short Q&A on its British Newsroom website that included a summary of the play.
"The musical’s central characters are two missionaries sent on a mission to Uganda," the summary said. "There they work in a village where a warlord is threatening the village’s inhabitants. The missionaries try to share the Book of Mormon, but the local inhabitants are more concerned about AIDS, war and staying alive. The musical trivializes and caricatures some of the church’s beliefs, including the Book of Mormon and founding prophet Joseph Smith. The musical’s creators portray the missionaries as naive but innocently optimistic. The musical is full of profanity and extremely vulgar content, including the frequent, blasphemous use of profanity directed at God and Jesus Christ."
Officials at Magic Arts & Entertainment, which scheduled the musical to come to Salt Lake, were unavailable for interviews Friday.
“This is one of the most exciting lineups in the 30 years we have been bringing national tours of Broadway musicals to Salt Lake,” Broadway Across America-Utah President John Ballard said in a press release. “Season ticketsholders will enjoy an extraordinary season of Broadway and will also be first in line to secure seats at the spectacular new Performing Arts Center which is now under construction.”
According to Broadway Across America, which is bringing the show to Capitol Theatre as part of its 2014-2015 lineup, season ticket holders will have the option of purchasing a four-show or five-show package. The four-show package does not include "The Book of Mormon." The other productions in the lineup are "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas — The Musical," "Once" and "The Illusionists."