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'South Park' Creators To Take Mormons To Broadway

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By Peggy Fletcher Stack / Salt Lake Tribune
Religion News Service

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) The Book of Mormon will make its debut next spring as a Broadway musical, and a lot of Latter-day Saints may not like it. Fans of satire, on the other hand, may love it.

"South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are crafting a play -- tentatively dubbed "The Book of Mormon" -- that juxtaposes the story of two eager yet naive Mormon missionaries in Uganda with the church's own complicated spiritual history, according to the New York Post.

If "South Park," with its proud history of skewering the pompous and pious, is any indication, theatergoers can expect a witty yet raunchy, profanity-laced satire.

Officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined to comment. Parker and Stone, in a press release, said, "Growing up in Colorado, a lot of our friends were Mormons and we always thought their book would make a great musical."

The Internet's so-called Mormon bloggernacle is abuzz with the news.

"Count this Mormon as one who is actually excited about the musical," exults John Dehlin at mormonmatters.org.

Dehlin, of Logan, Utah, spells out 10 reasons why he believes the Mormon musical could be good for the faith, including the notion that the Utah-based church is important enough to mock.

"How can they call us a cult once we're headlining 52nd Street? The Jews got 'Fiddler.' The Catholics got 'The Sound of Music' and 'Doubt.' It's our time to shine," Dehlin wrote. "Start spreading the news ... Mormons meet Manhattan."

Other "South Park" fans among the LDS faithful are eager to see the production -- set to premiere in March 2011 -- and have no fear of the theatrical barbs.

"I realize we believe things that are crazy and unbelievable to outsiders," says Loyd Ericson, a Mormon who's studying philosophy at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California. "I'm willing to laugh at my culture and beliefs."

Plus, he says, Stone and Parker are smart enough to know that a mean-spirited production isn't going to attract a big audience. After all, they have gone down the Mormon road before on their long-running television show, Ericson says, and each time the topic has been handled
in a critical but affectionate manner.

In one scene, people of diverse faiths are engulfed in the flames of hell when Satan tells them that Mormons had the true religion. Another season featured Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad taking on the magician David Blaine, who wants to start a religion. LDS Church founder Joseph Smith is among the religious icons included -- "the super friends," as the show is titled.

Then there is one entire episode, "All About the Mormons," which tells the story of a Mormon kid who comes to town. He tells his new friends how the church began, a history that is spoofed as "dumb." But the boy, his parents and siblings, Ericson says, are portrayed as loving
alternatives to some of the dysfunctional families around them. (The episode is viewable at www.southparkstudios.com/guide/712/)

The main character in Stone and Parker's 1997 feature film, "Orgazmo," was a Mormon missionary who becomes a porn star but uses a stunt double in the sex scenes so he can marry his sweetheart in a Mormon temple.

"Even in that movie," Ericson says, "Mormons were seen as kind of gullible, good-natured people trying to do what's best."

But can the duo get away with using the title of the LDS Church's sacred scripture to make fun of Mormons? Probably, says Krista Weber Powell, a Salt Lake City attorney who specializes in intellectual-property law.

"You can't copyright the title of a book or play," Powell says. "But the LDS Church (via its intellectual-property arm) does own a trademark for The Book of Mormon with respect to audiotapes and CDs, as well as printed religious material, pamphlets and brochures."

That gives church officials some leverage, she said, but it may not be worth the publicity of a lawsuit -- especially against a pair of popular jesters who could use such a legal tussle for more satirical ammo.

(Peggy Fletcher Stack writes for The Salt Lake Tribune.)