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Satirical musical 'The Book of Mormon' set to play Utah theater

Published March 17, 2014 6:01 pm

Stage • Ticket sales set for the hit musical about LDS missionaries.
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Elder Price will be belting "I Believe" and "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" on the Capitol Theatre stage next year as the sweet-and-sour "Book of Mormon" musical plays in Salt Lake City.

For Utah theatergoers who like to hear stories about themselves, the musical gives the LDS Church's headquarters a cameo role, both in a scene of the city's skyline and in the lyrics of the score. That's when a Ugandan villager sings about paradise: "Salvation has a name — Salt Lake-y City."

The musical's 16-performance run from July 28 to Aug. 9 will be offered as an add-on show for MagicSpace Entertainment's 2014-15 Broadway Across America — Utah season. Current ticket holders can buy tickets starting Monday, March 10, while tickets will be available for new subscribers beginning Monday, March 24. Ticket prices for a five-show package range from $204.50 to $454.

In addition, Broadway season ticket holders will be first in line to buy tickets to the inaugural season of downtown's new Utah Performing Arts Center, said John Ballard, president of MagicSpace. Construction on a new theater is expected to begin this year, with an opening planned in spring 2016, according to Salt Lake City's website.

In the past, some speculated "The Book of Mormon" wouldn't play Salt Lake City until there was a larger venue available or the demand had played out in bigger cities. A spokesman for the tour wouldn't take questions about the timing of the Utah run, instead deferring to local presenters.

When questioned, the company offered this statement: "We are particularly excited about this show and feel fortunate to have it appear in Salt Lake City," said CEO Lee Marshall, underscoring the group's mission to bring new shows to local audiences.

At the news of the local run, Jessica Moody, of the LDS Church, offered the faith's standard response to the musical's content: "The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but The Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."

Moody said there weren't yet any specific plans for an advertising campaign to coincide with the musical's hometown dates, to play just blocks from the church's headquarters and its iconic Salt Lake Temple.

In 2011, the church earned national headlines for its branding savvy in a million-dollar ad blitz coinciding with the musical's Broadway run. The campaign included a 40-foot digital Times Square video and 200 taxi-toppers featuring "I'm a Mormon" ads.

In other tour cities, the church has purchased ads in the musical's program. "Our message in the playbill," Moody said, "invites the audience to seek a more complete perspective on the book, its Christ-centered message and its place in Mormon belief, which is why we've run advertisements in every city this year."

The musical, which has been a smash hit since it premiered on Broadway in March 2011, is a sweet, profane tale of naive Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionaries sent to Uganda. The show was created by "South Park" provocateurs Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with music by "Avenue Q's" Robert Lopez (who just won an Oscar with his wife for the "Frozen" anthem "Let It Go").

Parker and Stone, whose animated Comedy Central show is known for its equal-opportunity skewering of a variety of religions, have been quoted saying they spent seven years researching and writing the musical, after growing up in the Denver area with Mormon friends.

Some local theater officials believe that research brought the writers to Salt Lake City, including possibly attending a performance of Salt Lake Acting Company's annual satirical musical, "Saturday's Voyeur." The sighting was never confirmed through ticket receipts, and it might be an urban myth, said SLAC co-executive producer Cynthia Fleming.

Even beyond the loyal "Voyeur" audience, the musical's hype — and its sweep of nine Tony Awards in 2011 — should help "The Book of Mormon" sell well in Utah. The touring show has set sales records, and tickets are selling well in Las Vegas, where it will play June 10-July 6.

The Vegas run is "darn close to sold out," or about 85 percent sold, said Suzanne Chabre, vice president of marketing communications at the Smith Center, a nonprofit that targets residents, not tourists.

The show's insider jokes about Mormon beliefs should land with even more ironic weight to Utah audiences, said Dave Evanoff, a Salt Lake City sound producer, formerly the music director for "Voyeur." Evanoff saw the production in Los Angeles in January.

Next year's Salt Lake City run is likely to attract large audiences, and they are likely to get even more of the jokes, say local theater officials.

"Definitely the brave LDS folks that choose to go to it are going to get the really subtle jokes that a lot of other people don't," said Dave Evanoff, a Salt Lake City sound producer, formerly the music director for "Voyeur."

"The show is such a big deal — theatrically and socially — that I think people here will go to see it out of curiosity."

Curious or not, many Mormon theater lovers are likely to stay away, due to the vulgarity that accompanies the musical's sharp satirical edge. After all, in accepting the Tony Award for best musical, Parker nodded jokingly to another collaborator — church founder Joseph Smith. "You did it, Joseph, you got the Tony!"

"It will sell a lot of tickets in this community," said Chris Lino, managing director of Pioneer Theatre Company, who saw the show on Broadway. "And probably for all the right reasons, there's a portion of the community that won't attend. That's as it should be."


facebook.com/ellen.weist —

'I Believe' in musicals

Salt Lake City-based promoter MagicSpace Entertainment has announced its 2014-15 Broadway Across America — Utah series season. The lineup includes the intimate film-turned-musical "Once," the flashy Gershwin musical "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and the very raunchy, very sweet "Book of Mormon" musical as an add-on show.

When • Season tickets will go on sale at 9 a.m. Monday for current subscribers.

Also • New season ticket orders will begin at 9 a.m. Monday, March 24.

Packages • Subscriptions for five shows (with "The Book of Mormon" as an add-on) range from $204.50 to $454, including all handling and facility fees; subscriptions for four shows (without "The Book of Mormon") range from $158.25 to $363.

Available • 801-355-5502 or BroadwayInUtah.com under the "season tickets" link .

Single tickets • Will go on sale at a later date. For past shows, after single tickets have sold out, the touring company has made a small number of show tickets available via lottery. —

Nice tickets if you can get 'em

Here's the lineup for Broadway Across America — Utah's 2014-15 season:

Sept. 23-28 • "Nice Work If You Can Get It," Capitol Theatre. This 1920s story, ginned up with hit George and Ira Gershwin songs — such as "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "I've Got a Crush on You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" — tells of a brassy playboy (a role originated on Broadway in 2012 by Matthew Broderick) whose heart is softened after he meets a sassy bootlegger.

Nov. 18-23 • "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," Capitol Theatre. The touring show, with sets inspired by the original Dr. Seuss illustrations, was directed by Pioneer Theatre Company guest director Matt August ("Into the Heights" and "Much Ado About Nothing"). The story is narrated by Max the Dog, who explains how the mean and scheming Grinch attempts to steal Christmas away from the holiday-loving Whos of Whoville.

April 7-12, 2015 • "Once," Kingsbury Hall. This unlikely Broadway charmer (and 2012 Best Musical Tony Award winner) is based on the scruffy, intimate musical film "Once," which screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007. The musical tells the story of a Dublin street busker and the mysterious young woman who inspires his best songs.

June 23-28, 2015 • "The Illusionists," Capitol Theatre. Billed as the "world's best-selling magic show," it features seven performers who offer "thrilling and sophisticated" magic.

July 28-Aug. 9, 2015 • "The Book of Mormon," Capitol Theatre. This very sweet and very raunchy musical — from "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who collaborated with composer Robert Lopez — tells the story of two Mormon missionaries serving in Uganda. The musical, with lyrics so profane that many of its songs couldn't be televised on the award show broadcast, won nine Tony Awards in 2011, including Best Musical.