© 2022 KSUT Public Radio
NPR News and Music Discovery for the Four Corners
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Life

In Utah, 'Book Of Mormon' Strikes A Chord


The Tony award-winning musical "The Book Of Mormon" is an irreverent sendup of missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This past week, four years after its Broadway debut, the show opened in the heart of Mormon America, Salt Lake City, Utah. Andrea Smardon of member station KUER sampled audience reaction.

ANDREA SMARDON, BYLINE: Maybe it goes without saying, but the people of Salt Lake City have strong feelings about "The Book Of Mormon." After the show, a lot of people described it like a homecoming party.


DIANA KARRENBERG: I was born and raised here. So this is kind of fun, to watch the audience's reaction and my own reaction.

BYRON RUSSELL: When they scream, Salt Lake City, the audience goes ballistic. I don't think they do that in New York.

WENDY HAUPT: I think there's just a lot of subtle humor with "The Book Of Mormon" that we understand that other people don't quite get around the country just because we've been around the culture.

SMARDON: That was Diana Karrenberg, Byron Russell, and Wendy Haupt, who identified as either non-Mormon, ex-Mormon or even half-Mormon. People in those categories said they thoroughly enjoyed the show. But the devout, practicing Mormons - well, there were fewer of them in the audience. But for those who did go, it's complicated.

TIMOTHY EMERY: I'm deeply Mormon, was raised in the church, really terribly offended by this play.

SMARDON: That's Timothy Emery standing outside during intermission.

EMERY: I might leave, yeah - except that I keep laughing. And that bothers me because it's so funny. So my outsides are telling me, don't go forward. Don't see it. But my insides are telling me, this is really funny. So I'm very conflicted at this point.

SMARDON: Emery did in fact go back in for the second half. Another member of the LDS church, G.K. Risser, went earlier in the week. He was also disturbed.

G.K. RISSER: When I left, I said, I feel like I was molested in more ways than one.

SMARDON: Risser is from California. And when he moved to Salt Lake City, he was surprised to encounter animosity towards Mormons. It's a city literally divided 50-50 between members of the LDS church and nonmembers.

RISSER: When everybody laughed together, it was really great. And that was typically when they were lampooning Mormon culture, you know, human foible.

SMARDON: But at times, Risser says, the audience reaction was more of a release for anti-Mormon sentiment.

RISSER: When they ridiculed Mormon doctrine, that's just when it, like, lit a fire of some kind. And people - their reactions were just disturbing.

SMARDON: Risser feels most of the audience was jumping at the chance to mock the Mormon church.

RISSER: The people next to me would freeze up. And the people on the other side of me would stand up and scream and hoot. But it didn't feel like it was a joyful hoot. It was more like a shout, you know? That was more offensive at times than the show itself, I felt like.

SMARDON: As for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it's running ads in the playbill promoting the actual Book of Mormon. You've seen the play, one ad says; now read the book. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Smardon in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.