At Los Angeles' Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard, L.A. resident Jay Hardy, known to church members as Elder Hardy, said “The Book of Mormon” has inspired people to read the actual Book of Mormon — the navy blue paperbacks labeled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” he often hands to prospective followers.
“They're poking fun of us because we're going somewhere,” said Hardy, who volunteers as a guide at the visitors center. “You don't poke fun of someone who's stuck in the mud.”
On the church's 13 hilltop acres in West Los Angeles, Hardy gives mini-lessons about Mormon core beliefs.
“People have been coming in and telling me, ‘I saw “The Book of Mormon”' or ‘I've heard about “The Book of Mormon” and I've driven by the building hundreds of times, so I thought I'd come in and learn more,'” Hardy said. “In some cases, they join the church.”
Some churchgoers, strolling across the well-manicured property on a recent Saturday, said they're opposed to seeing “The Book of Mormon.”
Jasmine Gonzalez, visiting from Westchester, N.Y., said she loves musicals but won't attend what she deems a negative show. She said she's heard “Mormon” contains racism and foul language.
“I wouldn't take my daughter to that,” Gonzalez said, noting the pair has seen “Mamma Mia!” together four times. “We like to do uplifting things, invest our time in uplifting thoughts. I wouldn't spend money on something unless I know we'd walk out of there happy.”
Gonzalez's daughter, Gabby, said she has heard students discussing the show at her high school.
“Things like that give people the wrong impression of us,” she said. “I hear them talking about it and I'm like, ‘No, you're wrong.'”
Kerry Soper, Brigham Young University humanities professor and author of “We Go Pogo: Walt Kelly, Politics and American Satire,” said the awkward melding of vulgarity with spiritual issues may turn off some Mormons. “I'm sure the play will reinforce in many peoples' minds some of the caricatures they have about Mormons — that they're naive, provincial and subject to a sort of lock step, blind faith,” he said. “Of course the core beliefs of the religion sound fairly ridiculous in the context of satirical Broadway songs.”
At the same time, the musical is a knowledgeable satire, he said. A Mormon who completed a mission trip in France, Soper said he appreciates the specificity of the religious roasts in a media-world of hackneyed stereotypes.
“It's clear that Stone and Parker are basing their jokes on some up-close experience with Mormon people and culture,” he said. “I'll take the biting specificity of these songs over the tired polygamy stereotypes in [Jay] Leno monologues any day.”
And “Mormon” isn't scathingly mean, he said. Rather than outright attacks, jokes are interpreted as playful nudges.
“There's also an almost affectionate sweetness to the treatment of the core characters,” Soper said. “The musical doesn't feel that malicious in the end.”