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 that, for a neurotypical person, would involve at least one overnight stay or, at least, sleeping and driving in shifts? (Don't fly to L.A. or Las Vegas unless you're staying at least three days. You will spend more time getting to and from the airport than it took to drive or, if you're supa-green, to ride Amtrak or a bus.)
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 (also very Utah-adjacent) and Texas (very populous) with a working total of four Mormon temples (and Tucson and Phoenix are on deck), a number exceeded only by California's seven (California, in case you haven't heard of it, is another extremely populous state) and 14 in Utah, the state where the LDS church -- the fourth largest Christian denomination in the United States -- is headquartered (not counting two Utah temples still under construction, but counting the Ogden location, which is currently closed for renovations).
Speaking of temples, I'm not sure why a church needs three palatial houses of worship (for lack of a better term) all of which could be viewed between breakfast and lunch (I'm talking to you, Phoenix, Mesa, and Gilbert) -- because the temple is not the place Mormons hang out for routine churchgoing and activities -- but the things I know, let alone understand, about most denominations of any organized religion could fit in Chip the teacup boy from Beauty and the Beast with room for cream and sugar. I present as a person whose relatively neutral point of view comes from widespread, equitable ignorance (I'm unchurched, descended from tedious Nothern European Protestants who sometimes convert to marry a hottie), because the alternative, learning a whole lot about a bunch of religions, is time-consuming. Just so you know.
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. (By comparison, 31 percent of Arizonans are vaguely Roman Catholic, but it's a much easier religion in which to be vague.) The U.S. Census agrees that we hover between 5 and 10 percent LDS.
Maricopa County itself (where I'm sitting right now) 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, a city literally founded by members of the church, and Gilbert, a relatively recently developed hotbed of LDS membership (13 percent). Is that a lot? You tell me:
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 neither inherently good nor bad. New Times has written a ton about this, including that Mormons are typically happy and nice, sometimes creepily so, unless they are gay, which is so cognitively dissonant that gay Mormons tend to kill themselves, but it's getting better -- and it's scarcely the only denomination that has issues with homosexuality. They're also super-musical, singing and playing instruments from an early age, and that makes a musical like The Book of Mormon kind of a natural.
Growing up in Mesa in the '60s and '70s, when about 40 percent of Mesans were LDS, meant that far more than 40 percent of public school kids were LDS (because church members usually have large families), and my civil rights were routinely violated during the school day, mostly in the form of public prayers to Heavenly Father at the beginnings of assemblies and concerts. But that's all in the past, and it was hardly something that only Mormons inflicted on us little hippies.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park and the films South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut and Team America: World Police, teamed up with Avenue Q composer Robert Lopez to develop The Book of Mormon. It's a long, weird origin story, perhaps best told here.
The thing about Matt and Trey 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. Their Catholicism and Scientology episodes make that clear. They'd like people to be reasonable and open-minded and pragmatic and compassionate, and the missionary team in BofM chooses to fudge their official "script" a bit to slow the spread of AIDS and the practice of female genital mutilation in Uganda.
Many Mormons adore this show. Some don't get the humor, and some are offended. (It's probably more offensive if you're Ugandan.) 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. And it's so funny, and it's well-crafted. I can't wait.
One thing I know for sure is that I'm never going to get anyone to say on the phone that a Broadway smash that's been touring since September 12, 2012, is not visiting Salt Lake City until July 28, 2015, and was announced about two and a half weeks ago as coming to Tempe as part of Gammage's Desert Schools Broadway Across America Series as part of the 2015-16 season is more than three years behind just because these two metro areas are heavily LDS. (BTW, the only other contender for super-Mormony city that hasn't seen this show is Boise, and it'll be there two weeks before SLC.)
Is the time lag there to get thousands of Mormons more in the mood? Gammage is doing a lot of 'splaining of something we can't even buy tickets to yet.
But Salt Lake and Phoenix are also both rather near Vegas, and shows that are running in Sin City are sometimes contractually forbidden from making tour stops here, as was the case with Mamma Mia! and Spamalot back in the day. So there's that.
And guess what? Valley starlet Alexandra Ncube (Rent, Spring Awakening) has been playing Nabulungi, The Book of Mormon's female lead, in this tour 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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