Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone's award-winning musical The Book of Mormon has done a lot more for the Mormon faith than it perhaps intended to do. Salt Lake City, state capital of Utah and home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, used to be just a slab of concrete in the middle of the desert – the promised land for over 15 million Mormons worldwide, but not somewhere anyone really took much notice of.
But since Parker and Stone's story of two Mormon elders' mission to Uganda became a Broadway and West End success, Mormons are reaching the same people across the globe who would have usually slammed the front door in their faces. And they seem to be taking the joke well, too, even buying advertising space in the musical's programme. But that's exactly what Stone and Parker were expecting. “We grew up with Mormons, and their MO is to beat you by being kinder than you and higher than you,” Parker says.
But what do Utah’s Mormons really think of The Book of Mormon? (The musical, not the religious testament Joseph Smith said he discovered in upstate New York in 1827. They're obviously pretty into that.) Are they happy with their newfound global fame? And have any of them actually seen the show? I took a walk through the streets of Salt Lake City to find out.
Elder Steven Bennion, Assistant Director, Latter Day Saints Church Hosting.
VICE: Elder Bennion, you’re pretty high up in the Mormon Church. Have you seen The Book of Mormon?
Elder Bennion: I haven't seen the play. I saw the awards on television, though.
The Tony Awards?
Yes. They won quite a few – more than just about any other play. I thought that what I saw on television was quite enjoyable. I understand that things got a little raw in places.
What got a little raw?
I can’t comment a lot about the content because I haven’t seen it, but it must have done some pretty good things to win a lot of Tony Awards from the experts.
So generally it’s a good thing for Mormons?
Yes. People will become more aware that we’re a Christian church, that we’re not a cult and that we don’t force our views on anyone, but that we’re happy to share them with those who are interested.
Tyler Aitken, management intern.
Sorry to interrupt your lunch, Tyler. What do you think of the musical?
Tyler: I haven’t seen it, but it’s actually quite close to home because I have a brother-in-law serving in Uganda right now on his mission. So that’s really neat.
The idea of it doesn’t bother you?
I’m not upset by it and I’m not in any way, shape or form against it. If it brings exposure to the religion, to the area, to the culture, that's fine with me.
Sherry Vina, music entrepreneur.
Everybody seems to be unbelievably positive about the The Book of Mormon.
Sherry: It’s a good thing for the community and Utah in general. People will understand that we’re not such a strange culture. We’ll appear to be a little more normal.
Do you think so? Do you know what’s in the show?
No, I don’t. It’s not on my list of must-sees, to be honest.
Susan Stroud, family therapist, and Greg Stroud, fine art marketing director.
Hi Greg. What kind of fine art do you market?
Greg: We make inspirational images of the saviour.
I’ve seen those all over Utah – you must be doing well. So what do you both think of the musical?
Susan: I don’t know it.
Greg: It’s that satire on the Book of Mormon and Mormons in general. It was in New York for a long time.
Susan: Oh yes. It’s probably been a year or two since I read a review on it.
It’s just opened in London.
Greg: I'm familiar with it. I think anything that makes fun of sacred ideals is questionable. There are certain parts of the world where, if you make fun of their religious beliefs, it would be chaos. But we’re not that way, of course!
Of course. And hey, some say any publicity is good publicity.
At a certain level I sort of believe that, but I wish there was a little more respect. It’s mocking and making fun of things we don’t think are there to be made fun of. We don’t think it’s wise or appropriate.
Tom Garner, photographer.
Do you have any idea why the Mormon faith might have captured our attention in the UK?
Tom: Gosh, I have no idea. My ancestors come from England and they were Mormons. I’m guessing a lot of our roots come from England and the early missionaries who went out there. But I don’t know why. I’m trying to think. Gosh. Why would you be so interested?
Have you been on a mission yourself?
I went to California in 1997.
And how was that?
It was tough – really hard. I was in really rich neighbourhoods and people felt they had everything in life already. But I’m glad I did it because it made college easier after learning how to deal with the responsibilities of a full time job. I’ve got four kids right now and all that stuff is way easier because of it.
You don’t look old enough to have four kids.
I’m 35. I’m old! People have kids pretty young here.
Erin Hymer, nurse.
Everyone around here seems to have heard of The Book of Mormon but no one has seen it. Why is that?
Erin: I’ve just heard that it’s going on in New York City and that it’s kind of risqué – not the kind of declaration of the church that most of us would want.
It’s not something you’d go and see yourself?
Probably not. I already know what the church is about. I’d rather see other musicals, like Wicked or some of the Disney ones.
At this point I was stopped by a Mormon security guard. He told me I couldn’t interview people around Temple Square without the church’s permission. Very nicely, of course. His name was Brian, he had a big smile and he told me he loved my jacket.
Follow Jenny on Twitter: @jennykleeman
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