“The book is always better” is the message The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to spread by advertising in the playbill for the “The Book of Mormon” musical.
The edgy Broadway musical, which is satyrical and sometimes arguably offensive in its treatment of Mormon doctrine and culture, has won nine Tony awards and is gaining recognition as, according to the New York Times, “the best musical of this century.”
Created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of television’s “South Park,” the show is an irreverent telling of LDS missionary experiences in Africa. With the show in such high demand, the creators decided to take it on a tour of North America.
Audiences in Los Angeles are exposed to a new addition — not a new cast member or a new musical number, but an advertisement from the LDS Church.
The Church has purchased advertising space for the first time in the musical’s run. The ads promote the actual volume of scripture, the Book of Mormon, in hopes that the play will inspire spectators to find the truth about the play’s source material.
LDS Church Spokesman Michael Purdy issued a statement about the Church’s decision to buy ad space in the playbill. “Patrons of the musical aren’t likely to leave the theater with a better understanding of the Book of Mormon. Our message in the playbill invites the audience to seek a more complete perspective on the book, its Christ-centered message and its place in Mormon belief.”
LDS Church member Charlotte Fermanis feels the ads will help the Church to grow and reach an audience not normally accessible to the Church.
“I think it’s great that they have done this,” Fermanis said. “I have tickets to go see it in October and I can’t wait. I’ve never really had the desire to see a musical as much as I want to see this. By having an advertisement in the playbill, maybe it will inspire people to finally get their questions answered from an official source. This will only help the missionary effort of the Church.”
This isn’t the first time the play has drawn attention to the Church. Upon its release in 2011, a Church statement was released stating, “The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”
L.A. is currently the only city to have the ad, but “plans for future use have not been determined,” Purdy said.
Three different versions of the ad will be displayed in the playbill. One has a close up of a smiling Caucasian man with the words “I’ve read the book.” Another has a picture of African-American actor and Mormon Tabernacle Choir member Alex Boyé with the quote, “You’ve seen the play…now read the book.” The third ad features a female of Asian heritage with the words, “The book is always better.”
Boyé said he thinks “it’s awesome” that the Church has taken this route.
“It shows we are not apologizing for who we are,” Boyé said. “It also shows that we are willing to have an open dialogue with people and not take offense or be defensive towards those who are not familiar with what we believe in. Also I think it hilarious that my face is in the playbill of the most famous play in America right now.”