If you think “The Book of Mormon,” a Broadway musical whose creators include the same people behind the sometimes-raunchy hit animated TV show “South Park,” is a vehicle to criticize the Mormon religion, think again.
That was the message from Ron Bohmer, one of the actors in the musical coming to the Fox Theatre in Midtown July 17 through 22 as part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta series.
“Like ‘Hamilton,’ it’s a game changer, but it’s more than that,” Bohmer said. “It’s brought a new audience to the theatre and there’s a reason why. It just works. To me I think people, the word of mouth about the show is so great. The biggest word of mouth is there’s a shock value to the show. You’ll hear language you would never hear in a Broadway show.
“It’s what brings people there, but what brings people back is the heart of the show. … It really asks questions about faith and religion and class and answers them all in a really affirming way, which is not what the audience expects. They expect it’s going to be a Mormon-bashing show and a religion-bashing show, but it’s exactly the opposite of that. It’s a faith-affirming show. We all need faith to get through the day, and if it helps you, then it’s right and it’s good.”
“The Book of Mormon” premiered in 2011 and was a smash success, winning nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the following year. It is about two Mormon missionaries who venture to Uganda to preach their religion to the residents there.
It was co-created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who co-created "South Park," and Robert Lopez, who co-wrote the lyrics and music for the Broadway smash “Avenue Q” with Jeff Marx.
The first U.S. tour of “The Book of Mormon” started in 2012, and since then a second tour and other shows abroad have been added. It has grossed more than $500 million, making it one of the most successful musicals in history.
None of the musical’s co-writers were available for an interview with the Neighbor, but in a 2013 interview with Red Carpet News TV, Parker and Stone talked about “The Book of Mormon.”
“Our two missionaries get sent to, like, a war-torn, famine-stricken part of Africa, and basically all the stuff they learned growing up in Utah is useless to them in this part of Africa. And then hilarity and songs ensue, I guess,” Stone said with a laugh.
Parker said the musical’s idea came from “growing up in Colorado, growing up where there were lots of Mormons, and hearing their stories, not only the stories they believed but the Mormon story of the founding of this new religion and the pioneers who headed west and thought they’d gotten to the West Coast but instead it was just a big lake, and all this great stuff. We grew up hearing all these stories. And the fact that all the Mormons we really knew we actually liked as people (helped), so it seemed like it was heading toward something big like this for a long time.”
Andy Huntington Jones, who plays Elder McKinley in “The Book of Mormon,” said the musical stands out for two reasons.
“I feel like ‘The Book of Mormon’ has been such a success because it’s a really a musical that both entertains you and makes you think as you’re walking out (afterwards),” he said. “I feel like a lot of people will go the theater as a way to escape from their daily problems, and with ‘The Book of Mormon,’ you have the release of the comedy. You get to laugh at the show, but you get to leave thinking about humanity and our need to believe in something. That combination, entertainment plus thought, is I think the equation that has made it a success.”
Bohmer, who plays five characters in the musical, including Jesus Christ and Mormon religion founder Joseph Smith, has been on this tour for nearly four years, including its last Atlanta stop in 2016. The Cincinnati native now lives in San Diego when not on tour. He said he has performed many times at the Fox in Atlanta, starting in 1986 as Rolf in “The Sound of Music,” which starred Debby Boone.
“The Fox is unique,” Bohmer said. “There are only (about 25) left in the country. (Atlanta’s) is my favorite because of that cyclorama of the sky the audience can see when they’re sitting there. It’s pretty amazing.”
He said he’s looking forward to returning to what he believes is “one of the most successfully diverse communities in the country.”
“People don’t expect it because it’s in the heart of the South,” Bohmer said. “But I’m really thrilled to see how Atlanta thrives as a multicultural country and it’s such a great example to the rest of the country.”
Jones, a native of Swampscott, Massachusetts, just north of Boston, lives in New York when not on tour. Unlike Bohmer, he’s relatively new to the tour, having joined it in January. Jones first performed at Atlanta’s Fox at the Junior Theatre Festival in 2003, when he was in middle school, and returned 12 years later with the tour of “Cinderella.”
“The first time I was there, I dreamed of coming back as a professional, so to come full circle was great,” said Jones, who also called the Fox “just such a special place to perform.”
He said since his wife Audrey is from Birmingham, he plans to see many members of her family while in Atlanta.
Tickets to “The Book of Mormon start at $33.50 and are available by visiting www.foxtheatre.org, calling 1-855-285-8499 or visiting the Fox box office (660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta). For more information, visit www.bookofmormonthemusical.com or www.broadwayinatlanta.com.
Bohmer said the musical is for everyone.
“If you haven’t seen this show and you don’t like musical theatre, this show has made converts of people who have never made it to a Broadway show to seeing Broadway shows (regularly),” he said. “It opens a doorway into the art form of musical theatre for people who have never experienced it. Once they step through that doorway, they’ll return again and again and again.”