Musical theater fans throughout Utah will be able to attend The Book of Mormon Musical in Salt Lake City this month. The musical, based on missionary culture in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, brings up some interesting and complicated feelings for members of the LDS Church.
Dr. Michael Huff is an assistant professor of music at Snow College in Ephraim. He is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who decided to attend the Broadway showing of the award-winning musical based on his religion during a trip to New York.
“It’s really, from the standpoint of a musical production, it’s first rate," Huff said. "What was interesting about my response to it I guess , act 1, I thought was really, really great and really cute and in a lot of ways, I thought accurate ways, but the culture. Then act 2 happened and by the time the show was over I wasn’t so much offended as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I was offended just as a person because the show took just a very lud turn.”
Huff went with a friend who had a similar experience while watching the show. They felt the content crossed a line, that it was inappropriate.
“There’s a memorable line in the song I Believe and I can’t remember which elder it is, but he’s really in a very sweet way at first proclaiming his faith and saying, “Here are the things I believe in," but the last line that comes at the end of the song is, 'I believe that God changed his mind about black people,'" Huff said.
Before 1978, black members were not allowed to hold the priesthood, or, from what Mormons believe, the power of God on earth. But in 1978 the church presidency allowed black males to hold the priesthood for the first time.
“If one really understand how the process works it wasn’t so much God that changed his mind about black people, it was people in the LDS Church that changed their mind about black people, particularly the leadership of the church in my opinion," he said. "The leaders of the church in the 70s were acting on the theme that really runs through the entire Book of Mormon which is, 'I inquired of the lord, I had a question, I didn’t understand the answer so I inquired of the lord and I got an answer.'"
Huff doesn’t officially represent the LDS Church, but he does have an opinion about how the LDS leadership responded to the musical when it first opened in 2011. They purchased playbill ad space inviting people to read the actual Book Of Mormon and shared missionary contact information.
"The ripples I think have been really, really interesting and not all bad,” he said.
While Huff will not be attending the Salt Lake City Eccles Theater performance, or any other future performance of The Book Of Mormon Musical, he is not surprised by the popularity of the show in a state where the headquarters of the church organization where the focus of the musical is located. There will be a total of 24 runs of the show in a theater that seats 2,500, meaning as many as 60,000 people could be singing along with the cast of the musical comedy about two young Mormon missionaries who travel to Africa to preach the Mormon religion.