Booking The Book of Mormon: Why Did It Take So Long?
Gammage Auditorium announced last month that The Book of Mormon, which is three years into its Broadway run and preselling seats through March 2015 as of press time, will play Tempe on tour sometime in the 2015-16 theater season.
Innocent questions that arise naturally, especially in the minds of people of all types who live in areas with a nice, large, healthy proportion of residents who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, include the following:
1. Just how many Mormons live in my stomping grounds?
2. If it's a lot, does that have anything to do with why I haven't been able to see The Book of Mormon yet without taking a road trip?
There are several ways to look at this, statistically. Let's start with monumental sacred architecture. The state of Arizona is now tied with Idaho and Texas with a working total of four Mormon temples, a number exceeded only by California's seven and 14 in Utah, the state where the LDS church — the fourth-largest Christian denomination in the United States, according to the National Council of Churches annual yearbook — is headquartered.
The church reported in 2012 that Arizona is 6.26 percent Mormon. Other than the states with more temples than Arizona, only Wyoming and Nevada exceed that proportion. The U.S. Census agrees that our state hovers between 5 percent and 10 percent LDS.
Maricopa County is neither the most nor the least proportionally Mormon county in Arizona, despite containing the cities and towns that are home to three of the temples, including Mesa and Gilbert (both 13 percent).
Percentages aside, Arizona is also home to the fourth-highest sheer headcount of LDS church members of any state. Living among a lot of Mormons is inherently neither good nor bad. Mormons are typically happy and nice, sometimes creepily so.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone teamed up with Avenue Q composer Robert Lopez to develop The Book of Mormon. It's a weird, intricate origin story, largely because the long timeframe and collaborative nature of crafting a big-budget stage extravaganza were new to the renegade animators.
The thing about Parker and Stone is that their work doesn't indicate that they particularly hate Mormonism or think it's any dumber or weirder than a lot of other religions. They'd like people to be reasonable and open-minded and pragmatic and compassionate.
Many Mormons adore this show. Some don't get the humor, and some are offended. The church buys ads in the playbills. Binge-listening to the soundtrack, what I hear is a lot of love, loyalty, respect, and people serving God and their fellow human beings.
I doubted anyone would suggest on the record that a Broadway smash that's been touring since fall 2012, is not visiting Salt Lake City until summer 2015, and will not be part of Gammage's Desert Schools Broadway Across America Series until the 2015-16 season is more than three years behind because these two metro areas are heavily LDS.
In 2011, MagicSpace Entertainment's John Ballard pointed out to the Salt Lake Tribune online that blockbuster tours often skip smaller markets for the first couple of years for economic reasons — it's a delicate dance of building word of mouth and buzz dying down at the same time. (The Lion King tour took eight years to reach SLC.)
Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, longtime Gammage executive director, told New Times via e-mail, "We are just so thrilled that The Book of Mormon will be coming to Tempe in the '15-'16 season. We certainly can't comment on other venues' scheduling," which makes sense.
Is the tour lag merely a fortunate coincidence that gives thousands of Mormons more time to get in the mood? Gammage is doing a lot of 'splaining on its website of the diversity and "explicit language" of something we can't even buy tickets to yet.
Because Phoenix is near Vegas, shows that are running in Sin City are sometimes contractually forbidden from making tour stops here. The second BofM tour company returns to Las Vegas' Smith Center for an engagement this summer. So there's that.
And Valley starlet Alexandra Ncube (Rent, Spring Awakening) has been playing Nabulungi, Mormon's female lead, in the first tour company (the one we get) since February. Not only is the local theater community happy for her opportunity, but young, cute, slightly built black actresses who can sing are especially happy that they might get cast a little more often in Phoenix now. So there's also that.
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