“I Believe” We Just Won 9 Tonys

I have tried very hard to maintain a strong dislike for The Book of Mormon musical. My first gut reaction to the very notion of it was one of dread. In particular, I dreaded the inevitable lines it would draw between those Mormons who are “cool” and have a sense of humor–and like the musical, verses those who aren’t cool, who don’t have a sense of humor, who have overactive persecution complexes and too-prudish sensibilities and dangit just can’t take a joke–and don’t like the musical. Those very divisions were evident almost immediately. A friend’s facebook wall devolved into an ugly spat with a fellow ward member who had a different opinion about the musical, testy comments peppered Bloggernacle discussions of it, and national media reviews of it contained pointed asides preemptively judging any who might take offense.

What bothered me most of all were the echoes of situations I’ve been in too many times to count, where I’ve felt compelled to “enjoy” a laugh at my own expense. As a woman who works in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field, it is a regular occurrence that a male co-worker will make a joke about women in my presence. Sometimes he’ll have the courtesy to subsequently realize, “Oh dear, I forgot she’s here,” and he’ll try to backpedal somehow. But more often than not, the backpedaling takes the form of self-justification, of saying, “Oh it wasn’t about you! It’s about other women, the [some negative attribute] ones! You’re not like them! You’re cool.” At which point I am socially expected to chuckle and say, “Yeah, screw them! Hahaha! What a funny joke! Not at all at my expense! See–I’m cool! I can laugh at jokes about women! I’m not one of those humorless feminists or something!!” I loathe that dynamic with every fiber of my being. I’ve been in that position often enough that if I catch so much as a faraway whiff of an oncoming instance of it, I reflexively bristle and prepare to scathingly loathe it. Such was my feeling about The Book of Mormon musical when the first rumors of its production were swirling.

And yet here’s where my Mormony imperative to total honesty compels me to admit that I did love the doorbell chorus of the “Hello” song when I listened to a recording of it on NPR. And that the number they performed at the Tony Awards tonight was, well, actually quite charming. I’d read quite a bit about that song, “I Believe,” and how it highlighted a laundry list of doctrinal oddities but was still “surprisingly sweet,” and that loathing instinct was triggered. How dare people try to guilt me into laughing at my own religion by throwing up the passive-aggressive barrier of “surprisingly sweet”? But the performance was so earnest and sincere that I found my heart melting, a little.

I still don’t think it would be fair to characterize the musical as not at Mormons’ expense. I believe Parker and Stone when they say that they weren’t out to destroy us. As they rightly point out, spending seven years making a Broadway musical probably isn’t the most efficient way they could have chosen to achieve that goal, if it had been the goal. But let’s not err too far in the other direction, and say that this is designed for the purpose of helping us as much as possible. And that is totally ok. Nobody owes us free PR work.

So if I am to warm up to the musical–which I demand not be assumed as a foregone conclusion, I ask that everybody on Facebook, and the blogs, and in the media, give me the space to do it on my own terms. In the mean time, for tonight, I can very sincerely say this to Parker and Stone: Congratulations. Well-deserved awards for what is by all accounts great musical theater. And thanks for the shout-out to Joseph Smith.


  • Best Musical
  • Best Book of a Musical
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Actress in a Musical — Nikki M. James
  • Best Direction of a Musical
  • Best Orchestrations
  • Best Scenic Design
  • Best Lighting Design
  • Best Sound Design


  1. I grew up loving musicals and, so, I was very interested in this. I started listening to the cast album on NPR (it isn’t available there anymore) and I made it through most of the beginning just fine. My rarely-rung blasphemy bell did go off during the *Hakuna Matata* song, which I wound up having to endure rather than enjoy. But other songs were good and occasionally insightful (the one about the companionship dynamic with the one guy there to win and the other there to help him describes several missionary companionships (and marriages) I knew). I never made it to the song by the girl singing about Salt Lake City. From what I’ve heard about the ending, I don’t think that the musical is particularly friendly to religion at all, or to Mormonism in particular. It is just another case of people assuming that we can’t possibly believe in the church, so we must be doing it for the social benefits or for family reasons or some such. So, whatever…

  2. I agree that it’s rotten when people expect you to laugh at a joke that’s at your expense. And I think you’re right that some of the humor in the piece can be seen as “at the Mormons’ expense.”

    However, I think the situation with this work is a bit more complex than that. Most importantly, it isn’t just a single, simple joke reinforcing some tired stereotype. It is a rich, well-researched piece where they portrayed a variety of different aspects of Mormon culture, both positive and negative. And some of the criticisms from Mormons weren’t the “Hey, you’re laughing at us not with us” variety — some complained simply that there was a negative side at all, regardless of whether the portrait was insightful and/or accurate.

    The song “I Believe” is an interesting case. When you listen to their NPR interview, Parker and Stone explain that the humor is delivered by grouping Mormon beliefs into triplets, and then putting the strangest belief in the third slot. So, let’s look at the first triplet in the song:

    I believe that the Lord God created the universe,
    I believe that He send His only son to die for my sins,
    and I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America.

    Is that a joke? I think part of the joke is that people in our culture wouldn’t bat an eye at someone sincerely, fervently singing the first two lines — and a Mormon can sing the third one just as fervently — yet is the third really so much more absurd than the first two?

    I think “surprisingly sweet” is the wrong way to put it (though I wouldn’t call it passive aggressive). I’d say instead that in “I Believe” Elder Price is bravely risking his own safety while passionately singing about his faith and about how his faith is driving him to action. If a faithful Mormon were to put a similar song in a Mormon-approved faith-promoting piece, it would come off as embarrassing propaganda. But in this warts-and-all portrait, it works — you can feel the passion of his faith.

  3. p.s. I added a second comment with a link to some more discussion on these same points. It seems to have fallen into moderation queue (as I kind of expected it would, which is why I put it in a separate, follow-up comment). If anyone is interested, please fish it out of moderation, thanks.

  4. gotta love the free PR. Thanks Parker and Stone. Certainly more positive PR than Prop 8.

  5. Now, when are they coming out with a DVD version so all us poor folks/don’t-live-anywhere-near-Broadway can watch it?

  6. When it comes to the muscial I fal into ‘the virtuous lovely of good report or praisworthy” category of mormons- I’ve just avoided it all together. I appreicate you sharing this clip. Watching the clip I felt like I was in some sort of weird twilight zone where Saturday’s Warriors ended up on Broadway.

    Tell you what- this sure beats taring and feathering.

  7. Newly,

    probably not for a while, but it will probably come to a musical theater near you sometime in the future.

  8. Saturday’s Warrior came to mind here, too. The other songs must be better than this one, right?

  9. Josh B. says:

    I second comment 6. Equally blasphemous and PRish.

  10. Matt W. says:

    Thanks for this Cynthia L.(and John C. in comment #1)- You’ve captured a lot of my feelings here between the two of you. It is a challenge for me, as one who is often considered “liberal” in my faith views to not be “cool” with it, when my friends and family bring up this musical. It is hard for me to remember that they are not LDS and probably don’t really get why the ending of “The Book of Mormon” isn’t sweet to me. Maybe the next time my sister tells me a funny joke about Kolob I’ll ask her how many women it takes to screw in a light bulb. But I probalby won’t. I hope I am a big enough boy to be able to disassociate the musical from the faith I lead.

    But on the other hand, I have a pretty hard time turning it off, like a light switch…

  11. So I wanted to watch that clip before commenting to get a feel for what people called the “Sweetest” song of the musical etc. This is the one that is supposed to at least be as fair as possible to Mormons.

    I think that clip really does do a great work of undermining the process of gaining a testimony by (not so) subetly twisting the process of gaining a testminoy and sharing the gospel to others of one where we bombastly just decide to believe a bunch of ridiculous things because it makes us good people.

    The Elder in that video doesn’t gain a testimony as a result of revelation, as a result of prayer and reading the scriptures and putting to practice the gospel, but he gains a testimony simply because he says he has one over and over again in a kind of benign self-deception.

    I’ve noticed lately that it is the practice of the adversary and those who have been blinded and lead away into captivity by him to accuse those who are following Lord of doing exactly those things committed by those who are held captive by the devil. Reading the first 15 chapters of first Nephi you really get a feel for this as Laman and Lemuel are always accusing Nephi of doing exactly those things Laman and Lemuel are plotting and already doing. It’s both sad and interesting to see those in captivity and blinded accuse those who follow the Lamb of God of seeking to control and do wickedness, while those same captive ones who make those accusations are doing exactly what they accuse their brothers of.

    So the method employed here by the South Park guys is nothing new, it’s thousands of years old. I have a hope that many will see through their charade and recognize that a testimony doesn’t come as a result of believing without reason. I have many great reasons for my testimony and it’s not just because I can repeat back the same things over and over again as portrayed in that video. I understand many in the world can’t share my exact reason for my faith, as I can also join Joseph Smith and say I would not believe what I do if I had not experienced it for myself.

    That does not change the reality that we each can have real, sincere experiences with God and revelation is we put the scriptures and words of the prophets to the test.

  12. “I’ve noticed lately that it is the practice of the adversary and those who have been blinded and lead away into captivity by him to accuse those who are following Lord of doing exactly those things committed by those who are held captive by the devil.”

    Are you saying that you believe Satan has a hold of them?

  13. @11, 12: I’m happy to have Chris express his views here, as I think he represents a not vanishingly rare reaction. But given that he did express it rather strongly, I do see a potential for flame war that I would prefer to avoid. In other words, I’d rather we not pursue Stan’s question.

  14. @2: There are a bunch of quibbles I have with your thoughts. Briefly, a few:

    — IMHO, some of the things are not required beliefs in theory, nor are they emphasized or widely believed in practice (Kolob, God “changing his mind” in those terms).
    — Even for members who do believe all those things in the very most straightforward, non-metaphorical ways on the spectrum, I don’t think it really makes sense for fervency of profession to be equal between, say, the Redemption mission of Jesus Christ and various planet things.
    –Also, as Chris said in his very nice 3rd paragraph, the process of testimony-building does not ring true. A faithless willing of belief seems much more common as a stage of an exit process, rather than an activity of actual mainstream faithful saints.

    So, overall, it just doesn’t ring true to my personal faith journey nor my experience with fellow members of all kinds–things are metaphorical, things are nuanced. I don’t see that here.

    What did work for me in the above clip–especially compared to just hearing the song (as I did and hated it)–there are two things: (1) If we take this as a personal, individual story about the elder in question, and not as supposed to be representing all Mormons’ feelings, beliefs and processes, then I think it works. For me, this seemed much more the case in watching the clip than just listening to the song. The lines that explicitly try to generalize (“A Mormon just…”) do still grate a little bit, but that’s being picky. (2) In watching the clip, it becomes clear how his faith is not just some desperately willed, arbitrarily odd, ultimately idle beliefs, these various pieces are being pooled together to give him strength to action. However, I agree with John C that ultimately the resolution that wacky, false, stupid religion is ok as long as it makes you do good things, is profoundly unsatisfying, and irreconcilably offensive, to religious people.

  15. My take on all of this hasn’t changed much from my reaction to some of the South Park Mormon episodes. Parker and Stone don’t have it out just for us, but it appears to me that they view all religious adherents as deluded in the face of what they consider overwhelming evidence against the existence of God. They just find us cuter and more sincere in our particular delusion than other religions, and least likely to take serious offense. And I think that’s faint praise at best. However, Cynthia, I have no immediate opinion to the broadway play, as I haven’t seen it, or listened to any significant portions of the music. I’ll listen to the clip above on my lunch break, likely, and see what my reaction is then to this particular piece of music as being the “sweet” number.

  16. @11: I think this song very effectively articulates the Mormon approach to testimony. Note the following line of the song: “If you ask the Lord in faith; He will always answer you just believe; In him and have no fear.” Also, recall the following statement which has been shared in many forms in one conference or another:

    “A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it. Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that ‘leap of faith,’ as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and step into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two.”

    The song in question very effectively illustrates this point, a point that is central to the testimony of so many latter day saints.

  17. Eric Russell says:

    It’s also not a great idea to try to make judgments based on this song itself. The concept of testimony/belief is recurring throughout the musical and is more nuanced than this song alone would convey.

  18. Eric, have you seen it? Please feel free to expound for us if so. My experience changed very much from just hearing the song, to seeing it performed where the character and context are more clear. So it doesn’t at all surprise me that impressions of the musical will be even that much more different having seen the whole thing vs watching this one song. A very fair point.

  19. I saw “I Believe” on the Tony Awards last night with my wife. We laughed hard when the missionary grabbed the drug lord’s hand and began dancing with him.

    I see this as a positive thing. It introduces the Church in a quirky way, but people understand that this is written by the creators of South Park. They mock everyone and everything. Yet, from what I understand, the Church still ends up looking good at the end.

    What was very funny to me was that the “I Believe” song actually reminded me of some of the LDS musicals of the 70s/80s: Saturday’s Warriors, My Turn on Earth, etc. You know, that syrupy sweet tenor singing a song that’s supposed to tug at your heart strings, yet is sharing the gospel on such a naive level that it doesn’t seem real.

    This morning, the Methodist that I car pool with said he watched the Tony Awards, and we had a decent discussion of the musical and a little about the Church. If it opens up doors for discussions, then I’m all for it.

  20. Cynthia L @13
    I hope the humorous irony of my comment as it related to the song referenced in the OP wasn’t missed and taken seriously or as an invitation to an overreaction.

  21. @20: Oh, ha! I’m trying to surreptitiously read and respond in this thread during a very important meeting at work, so please everyone just disregard me if I am wildly off-base and/or ungrammatical in these comments.

  22. BTW, I was in a meeting with the Church Public Affairs leader in the northwest a few weeks ago. He mentioned that the Ritz Carleton (owned by Marriott) by the BoM Musical theater has had to replace Books of Mormon in the rooms frequently. They went through 2 cases in a week. So, if the musical can get people to take a book of Mormon home with them to read, then it is doing a pretty good job for us as PR.

  23. It’s possible to over-think things. The Church’s official response got it right: the show is an “attempt to entertain audiences for an evening.” Apparently it does so, spectacularly. :-)

  24. Rameumptom (22),- That just made my day.

  25. Matt,
    Yeah, I love it when we get free advertisement. And it is great when we can laugh at ourselves, and invite our friends into the laughter. Usually this kind of stuff is negative towards us, but after millions saw “I Believe” last night, I think they are going to see that perhaps the Book of Mormon and Mormonism are more okay than they originally thought.

  26. I just watched at lunch. Seems like a cross between “Saturday’s Warrior” Donny Osmond and the “Confidence” song from “Sound of Music.” Seems fairly harmless even with about 85% accuracy on doctrinal issues. I actually had a Brazilian companion who, with the limited forms of music available to us under mission rules, played over and over again Maria’s “Confidence” song even acting it out sometimes appearing a lot like this Elder on stage.

    And, ya know, when I saw “Sound of Music” as a kid, I kinda wanted to be Catholic.

  27. From what I’ve seen and heard of the BOM musical (this clip, several interviews with Parker and Stone, listened to the soundtrack), what strikes me again and again – and has been the topic of conversation with some friends – is that this is a classic example of being beaten to the punch. I’ve known many talented LDS kids that have been inspired over the years to write music, or literature, that explores our complicated relationship with the faith that motivates us, only to (seemingly) buckle beneath the insecurity that comes from having to “represent” the entire Church to the world in a way that our entire tribe can be happy with? Beneath that weight, potentially great art just withers… or morphs into harmlessness… Or very often gets eternally procrastinated.

    Trey Parker doesn’t feel that (what I think is misplaced) weight of responsibility, so he’s able to just go for it. Maybe there is more than a little jealousy at play in some of the dismissive comments about the artistic merits of the play from Mormons who continually allow themselves to be paralyzed by the ramifications of expressing themselves “wrongly” in a broad cultural context.

    When I see insights here and elsewhere that “Man (or Lady) Up!” and just write honestly from a personal perspective, the results are so beautiful and tragic and revealing and insightful. They are those things in ways that the – however well-meaning – fairly shallow insights into our Faith coming from someone like Parker, who may admire it superficially but can’t fully understand the experience of being one person that is living their life as a part of it.

    I hope the existence of this musical serves as a motivation to all the brilliant kids in the Church to make more art and to do so a little less self consciously… To finish more of it and stop getting bummed when someone we don’t quite agree with totally beats us to the punch.

  28. Kristen Says No says:

    Ok, so I’ve avoided learning much of anything about this musical, because I just haven’t cared. But there was a clip! Again, to be clear, I haven’t heard any other songs, but…really? This won awards? Really? I just didn’t think it was very good and I am definitely a sucker for musicals.

    The truth is, I expected to be one of the “cool liberal” Mormons who think it’s funny. My gut reaction is — meh.

  29. renverseur says:

    Re: 22 — I’ve heard that the Church plans on buying media with the line “Now that you’ve seen the Book of Mormon,
    why not read it?”

    If there is any offense to be taken from the Book of Mormon musical, it is by Africans, who are caricaturized and
    mocked far worse than Mormons. Particularly, Africans are on the whole people of great faith (to many religions, not
    just LDS converts), and should justly take deep offense at the song where Africans are portrayed as denouncing God.

    If we back up and take a broader perspective, what the Book of Mormon musical is really about is Westerners’ crisis
    of faith projected on to an “exotic” people. Projecting western issues on to another people is, of course, an old
    tradition in Western culture, including the Broadway theater (Showboat, South Pacific, etc.). In its weird
    potty-mouthed way the musical is an artistic exploration of an agnostic world’s struggle to come to terms with the
    enduring power of religion and faith. The musical’s creators’ choice to make Mormons the representatives of
    traditional religion in this is really quite a compliment, especially to the Mormons they knew while growing up in
    Colorado, whose happy lives clearly have obsessed the “South Park” boys into their adulthoods. Note in his
    acceptance speech how Trey Parker, in addition to his shout-out to Joseph Smith, also said that everyone just wants
    to be in a big happy Mormon family.

    The challenge is how to positively engage this unexpected exposure. One approach is to argue that at bottom, the Book of Mormon musical is telling the world that the choice is between despair and Mormonism! I might take that one even at the expense of some mockery.

  30. chris, nobody special says:

    Stan – I’ll pursue it. Satan has a hold on all of us. There are more than a few snares of the adversary stuck in me… I guess you’re perfect and free from it though!

  31. I do love the fact that Trey Parker shared his Tony with Joseph Smith, the “co-writer.”

  32. What testy blog comments do you mean, Cynthia? Perhaps this one? http://www.mormonmentality.org/2011/05/10/listen-for-yourself-if-you-want-to.htm#comment-129504

  33. Latter-day Guy says:

    He’s got a serious case of “tenor thumb” beginning on the first “I believe.” (Thumb extended––actually results in tension working it’s way up the arm and into the neck. But he’s singing belt-style, so maybe it’s not such a big deal.)

  34. @30 chris
    Sorry I should have put a smiley on my comment. I was making a humorous reference to the song “I Believe” where he powerfully sates “I believe Satan has a hold of you!” to the warlord character. I thought it was kinda funny. No offense intended.

  35. StillConfused says:

    So that is my first time seeing any of the musical. I am bummed because I didn’t think that it was funny / satirical enough. But maybe there are more funny / satirical places in the play. I wonder how much of that the non-mormons actually get. Loved the 1978 line by the way.

    p.s. My opinions may not count much because I saw Les Miserables and didn’t like it. I think that I am the only one in the world in that category!

  36. Latter-day Guy says:

    Talk to Steve Evans, SC. You aren’t alone. (However wrong you may be about Les Miserables.)

  37. MikeInWeHo says:

    Steve Evans disliked Les Misérables?? But he’s the Inspector Javert of the Bloggernacle!

  38. Kristine says:

    “He’s got a serious case of “tenor thumb” beginning on the first “I believe.”

    I think I love you, L-d G.

  39. Two things:

    1. Mormons got off way easy compared to Ugandans.

    2. Parker & Stone is to Mormonism the way Kevin Costner is to baseball movies. You figure that at some point they’ve said everything they’ve got to say on the subject but nope! here’s another.

  40. Tertium Squid wins Simile of the Day

  41. mondo cool says:

    Man, I really feel bad about myself. I just kept thinking, “Great & spacious building. Great & spacious building…” Am I beyond hope?

  42. When Cartman appeared on “South Park”, Bart Simpson paled in comparison as the bad boy of gratuitously irreverent animation. Now, “Family Guy’s” Stewie Griffin has done in Cartman. The sense is South Park’s lost its edge, and, for some, become tame–uncool. Maybe the silver lining is that it was Parker/Stone and not “FM’s” Seth Macfarlane, notorious or otherwise for his atheism and gay marriage activism.

  43. I’m just disappointed that in last night’s Republican debate, Mitt Romney didn’t introduce himself:

    “My name is Mitt Romney, and while I don’t star in the musical, I have read the book.”

  44. Rameumptom,

    Romney just doesn’t know how to do cool. Perhaps you’ve forgotten this from the 2008 campaign

  45. my comment is in moderation.

  46. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    In agreement that you could see the performance of ‘I Believe’ and brush it off as innocuous and find that Mr. Rannel’s performance may win you over, but BEST ORIGINAL SCORE? REALLY?

    Well known Best Original Scores:

    South Pacific, Hello Dolly, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha, A Little Night Music, A Chorus Line, Sweeny Todd, Evita, Cats, Les Miserables. Is the melody of ‘I Believe’ really on the same caliber to the ballads in these musicals? To me it sounds more like a jingle created for a mediocre television commercial. I second the criticism given by the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout:

    The amateurish part relates mostly to the score, which is jointly credited to the three co-creators and is no better than what you might hear at a junior-varsity college show. The tunes are jingly-jangly, the lyrics embarrassingly ill-crafted. (This is the kind of show whose makers think that “days” rhymes with “AIDS.”) The opening song, “Hello,” is a moderately clever pastiche-style ditty about Mormon doorbell-ringers that gets things off to a brisk enough start, and “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is a crudely funny let’s-sing-lots-of-dirty-words production number that earns the laughs it gets. But you can pull that stunt only once a night, and “The Book of Mormon” tries to pull it several more times, always with diminishing returns.”

    No Tony expert here, but I would say that the enthusiasm for the event of seeing “The Book of Mormon” pushed it toward some awards for which it really, really isn’t the caliber of songwriting one would expect for such awards. Or else it is just a year of little competition. Of course some would say the same thing happened with “Cats”. The most lukewarm Lloyd Webber melody, however, beats the melody of “I Believe’, or so I believe.

  47. “I Believe” was pretty much the only song that could be sung at the Tony’s in its entirety. As others have said, a big part of its quality is its similarity to many of the songs that have been popular within our culture for so long – and that’s not an insignificant accomplishment, imo.

    Many of the same people who are criticizing the music in this play (at least in the negative reviews I’ve read) also criticized the music in “Avenue Q” – which makes sense, since they were written by the same person. The “Avenue Q” music was written to match the structure and feel of the play – puppets and a kind of “Sesame Street” vibe. Neither score is anything like the other musicals listed in #46 – but a score like those would have been completely wrong for each of these musicals.

    Despite some of the content of the songs, I was impressed by the score – particularly as an actual scorewithin the play and not just a collection of songs.

  48. my take says:

    It won awards mostly because the theater crowd is very pro gay rights (not said in a derogatory sense) and they were happy to see something poke fun on such a grand scale at the Mormons.

  49. #48 – All other reasoning aside, I agree that is why the score won the award.

  50. MikeInWeHo says:

    As I read all these comments, I am struck by how hard it must be for an active member of the church to approach this musical with any objectivity. Totally understandable. So here’s my perspective as an outsider:

    The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. The negative review in the Wall Street Journal is the main exception. The enormously more influential (when it comes to the arts) New York Times said:

    “’The Book of Mormon’ achieves something like a miracle. It both makes fun of and ardently embraces the all-American art form of the inspirational book musical. No Broadway show has so successfully had it both ways since Mel Brooks adapted his film ‘The Producers’ for the stage a decade ago.”

    The LA Times said:
    “The Book of Mormon has the old-fashioned musical comedy heart of adults who spent much of their adolescence lip-syncing to original cast albums in their finished basements.”
    “The Book of Mormon survives more on its musical theater prowess than on its dirty-mindedness. The songs, often inspired lampoons of contemporary Broadway styles, are as catchy as they are clever.”

    The glowing reviews go on and on. The Book of Mormon musical may not be a timeless classic, but seems likely to surpass Broadway hits such as The Producers, Hairspray, etc. A movie version is very likely, so we’ll probably be back here discussing that a few years from now.

    As for me personally, I find some of the language cringe-worthy and unnecessary but there’s no doubt the music is very catchy. This clip from the Tonys is fantastic. If you can’t see that, please refer to my very first sentence above.

  51. Whatever else there is to be said about the musical, the songwriting of the BoM musical is not all that strong. The BoM music is oh so catchy and fun, but not particularly lyrical. It has about 1.5 gears, musically speaking…charged and turbo-charged. I doubt Lopez will be counted among the Rogers & Hammersteins, Webbers, Sondheims, etc in the long run from a musical standpoint.

  52. MikeInWeHo says:

    I agree with you, JamesM. Of course, there’s more to a musical than just the lyrics. I’m very curious about the choreography and set design. Thankfully I have a ticket to see it next month!

  53. Anyone who has the idea and guts to write a Broadway musical called the Book of Mormon, and somehow makes it work, has got to be 3/4 the way to a victory. i guess we can argue about the final 1/4.

  54. Neal Kramer says:

    Writing about satire, John Dryden had this to say about people who are the objects of artful mockery:

    “A witty man is tickled while he may be hurt in this manner, and a fool feels it not. The occasion of an offense may possibly be given, but he cannot take it.”

    I think we should be pretty pleased that decent satire is the key to the success of the show. It allows us to chuckle and not have to take offense, even if you do believe that God lives on a planet named Kolob.

    Imagine what a clumsy anti-Mormon would have done. Of course, once the opprobrious terms start to flow, the chance to win a Tony goes out the window. So we’re lucky these boys are witty, to say the least.

    Dryden again, “[T]here is . . . a vast difference between the slovenly butchering of a man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the head from the body, and leaves it standing in its place.”

    I freely admit that when Joseph Smith was thanked, I tried to lift my head off my shoulders just to make sure I hadn’t been decapitated. I survived. I will say that I have never heard the words “The Book of Mormon” spoken on national TV as often as I did that night.

    I have decided to sit back and thank Southpark for admitting there are no Mormons in hell, because it turns out that we were right all along.

  55. Well known Best Original Scores:

    South Pacific, Hello Dolly, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha, A Little Night Music, A Chorus Line, Sweeny Todd, Evita, Cats, Les Miserables.

    Rigel, I’m not sure that’s a particularly strong line of argument. (a) You need to compare it to the other musicals that are out this year. Is there a better one they could have picked? (b) You listed 10 musicals, out of the 64 years of Tony Awards. So 5/6 of Best Original Score winners are less “well known” than the ones you listed. The argument isn’t necessarily why BoMM belongs in the company of those you listed, so much as why do you think it doesn’t belong, even in the company of that other 5/6?

  56. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    ‘You need to compare it to the other musicals that are out this year. Is there a better one they could have picked?’

    This is true, which is why I asked, ‘REALLY?” I said I’m no Tony expert and I would love to hear a Tony/Music expert comment on the competition for Original Score provided by ‘They Scottsboro Boys”, “Sister Act”, and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”. Was it a year of little competition?

    ‘You listed 10 musicals, out of the 64 years of Tony Awards. So 5/6 of Best Original Score winners are less “well known” than the ones you listed.’

    There are still some impressive musical scores among the others I didn’t list and there were over 10 awards presentations where a best original score was not awarded (according to wikipedia), but I will also give you that my argument wasn’t strong in saying the show was undeserving. But can anyone suggest that this musical will leave a musical legacy where pianists will buy the score to play the music as solos, marching bands and drum corps will play musical arrangements of the score, or Barbra Streisand will record her own version of any of the music?

  57. MikeInWeHo says:

    I don’t expect to hear Babs belting out Hasa Diga Eebowai anytime soon.

  58. I wanted to give this musical a chance, but I simply can’t stand cheesy musicals. I don’t care what they’re about. In fact, if Parker and Stone had written this cheesy of a musical about MY LIFE, I’d probably listen to three songs and then walk away with my hands pressed against my ears. Unless they got Dave Mustaine to write it. Then I’d listen. And anyway, I already know what happened in my life, so I don’t need a musical to tell me what happened in my life. Can we all just stop talking about writing a musical about my life? To recap, I hate cheesy musicals.

  59. The number “I Believe,” which was shown on the Tony Awards broadcast, is this musical at its best – it captures the sweetly powerful firmness of Elder Price’s faith, but also pokes fun at the more interesting aspects of Mormon theology. There’s an entertaining explication of the song’s lyrics here: bookofmormonstories.blogspot.com.

  60. I’ve listened to the soundtrack a few times since my Catholic mother bought me the $2 amazon downloadable version on Monday. My baptism, graduating from BYU, one temple marriage, four children, two baptisms later, this play has created more opportunity for me to talk about my beliefs with her than anything that has preceded it. Take” I Believe”: cringe worthy? No moreso than any given testimony mtg, just a much much bigger audience, especially with the Nielson family watching the Tonys. But just like testimony mtg, we may dwell on the minor inconsistencies, the 15% wrong. But I think it’s noteworthy that some are watching the 85% right. There’s no mention of plural marriage, and in the play, the missionaries are trying to help the people (in albeit objectionable and South Parkian ways), and hey, the mission strengthens the missionaries’ faith. Heck, that doesn’t always happen in real life. My review based on the soundtrack is two thumbs way up.

  61. MikeInWeHo says:

    Check out the opening number that Neil Patrick Harris performed at the Tony Awards, featuring some dancing missionaries.
    “We’ve got swarms of Mormons…..!”

  62. Cynthia L. says:

    I heart NPH. Was Dr Horrible eligible for Tonys? A crime if not.

  63. Cynthia, when the Tony’s started, my 9-year-old daughter’s face brightened immediately and she said, “That’s Dr. Horrible!” She came back into the room every time she heard NPH singing.

  64. I’m just glad that Evangelicals and a pro-LGBT audience were able to get together on something. That Prop 8 thing really strained their relationship.

    Seriously though – couldn’t help but see parallels between the Tonys performance and something Jana Riess recently wrote about the signs of an anti:

    3) You choose its more esoteric or odd-sounding beliefs to represent the whole tradition. Anti-Mormon literature routinely brings up strange teachings, like the idea that God lives on the planet Kolob or that Jackson County, Missouri is the site of the Garden of Eden–neither of which, as I’ve blogged about before, I happen to believe–in order to make the religion sound as preposterous as possible. Smith chooses to highlight Mormonism’s “highly idiosyncratic” belief that Jesus visited America.

    I know, I know – satire. But still – I have little problem laughing at myself or my beliefs. I do, however, have a hard time laughing at an outsider’s perception of what I believe.

    FWIW, The only reason I was sad to see them win so many Tonys is because now its even harder to find a ticket.

  65. Cynthia L. says:

    “FWIW, The only reason I was sad to see them win so many Tonys is because now its even harder to find a ticket.”


  66. I think the Church needs to take a more proactive stance. We should have full time missionaries waiting at the doors with signs: Free lessons, baptism and salvation for every ticket holder.

  67. Oops. I misunderstood the ending. Nix the mission strengthens their testimonies. The soundtrack misled me! I enjoy self depracating jokes, so maybe I err on the wrong side. I am not about to reccommend this to all my friends and neighbors, don’t worry. But I will be surprised if I don’t see a couple of these songs pop up at ward talent shows in a few years.

  68. I thought it was pretty ironic in this interview* that the composer Bobby Lopez said that there was a moment when he wasn’t sure about including jokes about baby rape, but then he just put aside that feeling and went with it because he knew it would work. Apparently he TURNED IT OFF. (One of the numbers he composed is titled “Turn it Off” and is about turning off feelings).

    * http://www.studio360.org/2011/jun/10/stage-now-book-mormon/

  69. and the Kolob bit… I’ve had to explain that to more than one of my Catholic family members who are there when we Kolob “If I could Hie To Kolob” at sacrament mtg. Parker and Stone have nothing on my ward program planner in a few respects.

  70. @69: We really need to take that lovely music and write different words for it.

  71. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 70 No way, Cynthia! That song is really cool. Would you re-write Oh My Father too?

    Do you want to wind up like The CoC, just another protestant denomination albeit with a quirky history and some extra-but-optional scripture?

  72. I’m not saying take it away- MIWH: those two songs are among my very favorite. I just think it’s ok that Kolob is mentioned in the play, as it’s mentioned at church. I love the quirkiness of the church… it’s why I can’t help but hum the catchy tunes that incorporate the quirkiness. But I have a large measure of self loathing that I try as I might, I can’t ‘turn it off’, so I’m not the best representative here.

  73. Cynthia L. says:

    The solemn choral vibe of Hie to Kolob reminds me of the men’s chorus numbers in The Magic Flute, which are by the temple council of elders. The Masonic theme is fitting I suppose.

    Also, this might make me some kind of freak, but the word “Hie” is what sets off my weird-o-meter more than the Kolob. IMH(and freaky)O, writing out the “Hie” would cut the weirdness in half.

  74. MikeInWeHo says:

    What about changing it to If You Could Fly To Kolob ??

  75. StillConfused says:

    So what does “hie” to Kolob mean anyway? I thought maybe it was supposed to be “hike” and it was a typo.

  76. StillConfused says:

    #61 — Loved it. I liked that better than the Mormon one.

  77. Latter-day Guy says:

    Hie: Old English higian “strive, hasten,” originally “to be intent on,” from Proto-Germanic *hig– (cf. M.Du. higen “to pant,” M.L.G. hichen, Ger. heichen).

  78. “If You Could Pant to Kolob”

    Yeah, that would clear up a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.

  79. Latter-day Guy says:

    Where are the bloggernacle poets when you need ’em? Eat your heart out, W.W. Phelps.

  80. I thought the song “You and Me – but mostly me” was a more important meme not discussed here. One “superstar” missionary purist wants center stage, but it is his side-dish companion Elder Cunningham who baptized first, and creatively offers new revelation in pursuit of noble ends with white lies. For him, people come first, whereas the taller better-looking Elder Price loves humanity but can’t stand people.

    I bought the soundtrack and love most of it.

  81. Whatever the quality, it’s the 3rd best selling album in the country this past sales week, with the best weekly sales total in the history of Broadway musicals:


  82. You and me, but mostly me…wow. I don’t know a missionary who couldn’t relate to that song. Most people can relate to that, being partnered with someone for a project or at school. IME the sr / jr dynamic in missionaries is different with sisters.

    “I believe” was interesting to be reminded how we look to other people. When people hear weird things they assume it takes up as much church time as the “normal stuff”-and of course the Sunday they come, it does. Most missionaries..and members, have a crazy fast sunday story.

    I really liked the example in the OP of the joke. I thought that was dead on how I feel…and yet I’m enjoying some of the songs myself.

    What other songs are reasonable to listen to-written in an honestly I don’t want my ears exploding kind of way. One article mentions just how terribly horrible the language is and it’d be tough to find somethign to even play at the Tonys…and the only two songs I’ve heard are “I believe” and “You and me, but mostly me”

  83. MikeInWeHo says:

    “All American Prophet” is another song from this musical that doesn’t use any terrible language but I think Mormons would find interesting.

  84. I also quite like “Man Up” – but I’m also a Jack Black fan.

  85. Britt k says:

    Thanks for the ideas. I really like American Prophet- a lot to talk about there too-with the culture being carried in wholesale along with the gospel in some cases…I can imagine a few 19yos singing “man up”.

  86. Mark N. says:

    Having listened to the soundtrack, and having read a bit about the plot of the story, it seems to me that the bottom line message of the musical is that religion is just stuff that was made up by someone (‘you’re making things up again, Arnold”; the “Book of Arnold”). If Arnold makes things up for what turns out to be a benfit for the Ugandans, it isn’t any different from what Joseph Smith did for 19th century converts. So, for all it’s “sweetness”, the real point of the show would seem to be that all religious believers have just swallowed stuff that was made up by someone, for whatever reason, and sometimes we get lucky and the believers end up being really nice people as a result despite the absurdity of the beliefs in question. So, I guess it really is about the people in the big and spacious building pointing and laughing at those trying to reach the tree of life.

    Way to go, Joseph: you nailed it.

  87. Butch Bowman says:

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but Kolob is not a planet, and God does not live on it. It is a star, and it is described as being the closest star to God’s throne. This philosophical/poetic cosmology/teaching from the Book of Abraham is in line with similar teachings of many ancient religions. People focus on it as being strange, because Joseph Smith taught it, and because Mormons believe it. I think it is a very beautiful teaching with deep meaning.

    I also cast my vote in favor of the W.W. Phelps hymn, “If You Could Hie to Kolob.” I love this hymn and wish it were sung more often, with ALL the verses, of course.

  88. Butch Bowman says:

    Hm. Guess I should have read the Wikipedia article on Kolob before posting. I remain a Kolob fan nonetheless.

    I will say in response to Ray (#47), that I think most of the songs from the play could have been performed on TV, with the occasional expletive BLEEPed, as was done with “I Believe.” I will also say that except for a few songs that I find truly offensive (namely: “Hasa Diga Eebowai;” “Making Things Up Again;” “Joseph Smith–American Moses;” and a section of the finale, “Tomorrow Is a Latter Day”), I have fallen in love with this music. The songs really capture our culture with its quirkiness (right down to the Utah accents), but also with its charm. And they are just “freakin'” hilarious.

    So what about the offensive parts? In true Mormon fashion, I have purchased the CD, uploaded the music onto my computer and edited the playlist and individual tracks to create my own “nearly clean” version of the Cast Recording. “Super easy!”

  89. Utah accent, really? Awesome. Can you point out a couple particular examples (song and time)?

  90. Kristine says:

    Cynthia (70)–it already has different words–we stole it :) Here’s one of the nicest texts that goes with it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RGgS4kyGWI

  91. Cynthia (89), here is my very short list of (what I think was intended as) Utah-speak, but accent play is pervasive throughout:

    4. Hasa Diga Eebowai 1:49-52 “Excuse me sir, but what exactly does that phrase mean?”
    5. Turn It Off, more or less woven throughout
    6. I Am Here For You 0:05 “Well all right then, let’s get som sleep, huh?”
    12. I Believe 2:08 “The current President of the Church…speaks directly to God”

    Most of the heavy lifting is done by Wasatch caricature Elder Kevin Price, but the mission president and other missionaries (excluding the very un-Utah Elder Cunningham, of course) help out.

    BTW, my own anecdotal survey of Google News, HuffPost, and NY Times finds that coverage in the liberal secular media of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which thanks to the musical everybody now knows the long name of) has maintained its frequency, but more interestingly has evolved from ridicule to smug patronizing mockery to in-depth exposition of arcane LDS doctrine to one-of-many-cult equation to downright open admiration for LDS “niceness”. Any more coverage and the Dalai Lama will have to move aside to make room. I think it would be interesting to correlate the musical’s opening with investigator interest: I would expect a positive correlation.

  92. Cynthia (70), as far as writing different words to the Vaughn Williams harmonization of an old tune, any hymn text in 7676D meter (there are 10 others in the 1985 hymnbook) will do. Many other churches use the tune for a variety of texts (although in many cases in a 8686D (CMD) version where the half note of the first line has been turned into repeated quarters to accommodate another syllable of text).

    The tune has only been associated with “If you could hie to Kolob” since 1985 — in previous hymnbooks it was sung to a Joseph J. Daynes tune that had the opposite of a “solemn choral vibe”. It appeared in the 1889 Latter Day Saints Psalmody, years before Vaughn Williams published his arrangement of the other tune, in 1906. You can listen to Daynes tune at this site (#252):


  93. Just noticed that Kristine already addressed the topic, but here are the words to the original ballad for those interested:


  94. Wow, what a font of wisdom are the commenters in this thread! (I wonder if that could be put to the Hie to Kolob tune?) Thanks Butch, Kristine, Dan, Bill.

  95. One more tidbit about the original Daynes Kolob tune. According to Michael Hicks in Mormonism and Music: a History (p. 123), Daynes was influenced by another prolific Mormon hymn composer, George Careless, and that the opening line of Daynes’s tune for If you could hie to Kolob, “borrows note for note from Careless’s waltz for the play Cinderella.”

  96. Butch Bowman says:

    I would also add to Dan Weston’s list (#91) what to me is the most obvious example of a Utah Mormon accent in the play. At the end of the song, “Hello,” the elders sing, “The Book of Mo-o-or-MUN,” complete with multi-part male harmony, ala the Osmond Brothers.

    But as Dan points out, the missionaries diction as a whole throughout the play (as heard on the Cast Recording at least), including pronunciation, enunciation, and word choice are very Utah Mormon. It’s mostly pretty subtle, which I think is appropriate, since that way it adds to the charm of the play. If it were less subtle, it would probably come off as direct mocking, which I don’t think they were going for. It’s very well done, really.

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