The Musical Made in Heaven (Or Not)

Associate editor Ellen Burkhardt and senior editor Tim Gihring on The Book of Mormon: the awkward, the sensational, and the theological.

EB: I don’t know about you, but I still have a bad case of the giggles from the show. I was the crazy person laughing to herself on the bus this morning.

TG: I couldn’t stop singing “Turn It Off,” the song about self-repression. It’s genius how direct the satire is, and the clever lyrics. Just don’t sing out loud, someone might get the wrong idea. How many F-bombs do you think were dropped during the show? Someone should count it up.

Joan Marcus

EB: It should be a drinking game—except someone might die.

TG: Looks like someone did tally it up, actually: a reporter for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City says the “production contains at least 49 instances of the F-word, and approximately 26 additional expletives,” whatever that means. The same review then breathlessly reports that the musical “includes sexual innuendos, references to HIV, rape, genital mutilation, and homosexuality,” as though these are things that shouldn’t be talked about. Turn it off, indeed.

EB: Sounds like the elderly gentleman sitting behind me who, at intermission, turned to his companion and said in rather shocked voice, “Well, it’s not quite what I thought it would be.” Someone didn’t do his homework.

TG: It’s not a show to go into blind, that’s for sure.

EB: A cocktail or two beforehand might have helped. Although this is one show that might actually be better to watch sober. I only had one glass of wine and was struggling to keep up with everything happening on stage: an S&M-style Darth Vader, a pleather-panted Hitler, an illuminated Barbie-blond Jesus. Makes you wonder how much the writers had to drink during their brainstorming powwows.  

Mark Evans as Elder Price,
by Joan Marcus

TG: Drinking and Mormonism don’t tend to go together. But a few Mormons probably felt they needed a drink after seeing this. Interestingly, David Brooks, the equanimous conservative columnist, loved the show when he saw it in 2011, saying it mocked Mormonism but not Mormons, which is fair. But he felt the upshot—that religion can be beneficial so long as it’s openminded and not taken literally—was off base. He thinks religion only really compels people when it’s of the stiffly doctrinal, zealously theological variety—exactly the sort of thing BOM mocks. So you can laugh without really agreeing.

EB: The fact that Mr. Brooks could theologically dissect every wink and jab BOM takes at organized religion proves just how smart a production it really is. Even the political incorrectness contains a deeper message of how we as a society assume we “get” other cultures that we actually know nothing about. And you know what they say about when you assume…

TG: Yes, the South Park characters—who are channeled well in BOM; Jesus sounds a lot like Cartman—were always mocking others and themselves. Which is why the premise of missionaries in Africa works well: it’s both an obvious setup for spoofing the pious and for saying, hey, we don’t have any good answers for why life can be so terrible. Nobody does. So if believing in an afterlife in outer space—or in Star Wars characters—gets you through the night, more power to you. 

EB: And if your idea of heaven is Orlando, Florida, as it is for Elder Price, who are we to judge? Although personally, I think Disney World as more “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” than eternal resting place, but that’s just me. What’s in your hell dream, TG?

TG: My spooky hell dream would probably be a little like freshman year of journalism school, where I was tortured for using descriptive adjectives. Or a place where no one laughed at BOM.

EB: There are professionals to help you out with that first one. As for the second thing, well, I don’t think we need to worry about that.

The Book of Mormon plays through Sunday, February 17, at Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. Tickets are limited, with a lottery available two-and-a-half hours before each show. One entry per person; up to two tickets allowed per winner; $25 per ticket. See website for more information: