Salt Lake City is currently home to two musical theater productions based on the Book of Mormon — one a Tony Award-winning Broadway hit, and one a humble offering from a self-taught composer seeking "to represent the Book of Mormon accurately and in an inspired way.”
While "The Book of Mormon" began a two-week run at Capitol Theatre on July 28, “Nephi and the Sword of Laban” opened July 27 at Salt Lake Community College’s Grand Theatre. It will be performed through Aug. 8.
Sherry Allred, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Centerville, is the composer and writer, and the musical has “been brewing within (her) heart for a long time.”
“My original purpose was to share the Book of Mormon and encourage people to read it,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t want to pick a fight with (‘The Book of Mormon’ musical).”
"The Book of Mormon" is a critically acclaimed production that won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2011. The musical, written by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is also irreverent and uses profane language.
Once Allred realized that the Broadway musical told a tale of missionaries proselytizing in Africa rather than the stories contained within the pages of LDS scripture, she hoped her musical could “defend the Book of Mormon in a big way.”
“Nephi and the Sword of Laban” re-enacts 1 Nephi Chapter 1 through 2 Nephi Chapter 6. Originally, Allred thought of covering the entire Book of Mormon in one musical, but she wanted people to understand each character.
For instance, in “Nephi and the Sword of Laban,” audience members are given time to understand Laman and Lemuel’s choices and to gain compassion for them, but also to acknowledge that they sinned against God, she said. The best way to flesh out each character, she said, was telling the story through installments.
“My vision is to do a series of musicals and have the second one about Jacob,” she said. “Toward the end of this musical, there are some really tender moments between Nephi and Jacob as he kind of passes the mantle of leadership to Jacob.”
When Allred saw Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film "The Ten Commandments" as a child, she longed to make “an epic Book of Mormon movie” because of how much she loved the book of scripture. But her dream wasn’t reimagined as a musical until years later.
It began with a seven-song "reader's theater" draft of “Nephi and the Sword of Laban” that was part of a fireside at her church building in September 2003.
“I wanted to see if it moved people the way it moved me,” she said.
Family and talented ward members read the parts to a small group of church members. The play was one of the first she had written, so the dialogue was “tragically boring,” Allred admitted. But she felt the music was powerful.
In October 2011, she rushed to produce “Nephi and the Sword of Laban” in Ogden before her lead, Chase Petersen as Nephi, left to serve an LDS mission. The dialogue was stronger this time because she had gotten more experience by entering short play competitions.
Allred was surprised to learn that “The Book of Mormon” was coming to Salt Lake City and decided to produce “Nephi and the Sword of Laban” again. The prospect was scary, she said, because she was just “an ordinary woman with a burning passion and a dream.”
According to Allred, the 2015 version of “Nephi and the Sword of Laban” has nine new songs and is a richer production.
“I feel excited about having a greater, stronger dialogue,” she said.
Allred, a mother of six and a grandmother of two, said her family “put everything on the line” because they are the only backers for the project.
“‘The Book of Mormon’ is coming with a golden wallet, but I have Heavenly Father on my side,” she said. “I know I could get ridiculed for saying that, but I’m not ashamed that God is someone I believe in.”
Allred gave some examples of lives that have been touched from past productions of the musical, such as a young man who decided to go on a full-time church mission after seeing a performance and a theater manager who asked for a copy of the Book of Mormon after hearing rehearsals for a week.
“I was so delighted,” Allred said. “I want to intrigue people with the story.”
Tickets for "Nephi and the Sword of Laban" are $25 for ages 16 and up, and $15 for seniors, students, military, youths and groups of 10 or more. The Grand Theatre is located at 1575 S. State Street. Call 801-957-3322. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. each day (except Sunday) with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays.