At the Mormon Media Symposium on Friday, several panelists discussed the controversial play concerning the LDS faith, in a discussion entitled, “The Book of Mormon Musical: Tap Dancing, Blasphemy & Truth in Advertising.”
Dr. Megan Sanborn Jones was the moderator and the other panelists consisted of Paul Edwards, Janelle Turley, Emily Jensen, Thomas Russell and Kymberly Mellen.
The panelists discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the musical, and how LDS members can and should react to controversial issues and topics, like the musical, now and in the future.
Tom Russel, a screen writer and BYU professor, discussed how the church’s official response to the musical wasn’t defensive. He explained how purchasing ad space in Times Square and in the play bill was a very positive reaction. The church responded effectively to the huge controversy, he explained.
“We’re believers, we better have thick skin,” Russell said.
Emily Jensen, who studied blogs surrounding the musical, had mixed emotions from many people.
“Can you review a musical you haven’t seen?” Jensen asked.
Apparently, the answer she found was yes. Of the blogs she studied, many were opinions of people who never actually even saw the musical. However, she found that of those who reviewed the musical, and actually saw it, had very positive reactions with just a few negative critiques.
Janelle Turley, who is heavily involved in theatrics, thoroughly enjoyed the musical and is excited to see it again.
She explained that some parts of the musical made her feel uneasy, but she loved the production as a whole. She explained that she watched it with some of her non-LDS friends, and it gave her the opportunity to have honest conversations, as well as engage with friends about her religion and what she really believes in.
“Why is it bad to say that you’re a fan of a controversial play or movie?” Turley asked.
Turley said that she can talk with friends about her excitement towards the play, but can’t talk to her family about it because she fears the judgment they might pass on her.
Paul Edwards, editor of the Deseret News, noticed positive and negatives about the musical.
“It’s a very chaotic media world we live in, there’s no way to control conversations, but it’s helpful to have them started,” Edwards said.
He explained that whenever he meets with editors and publishers from around the nation, it always leads to “the Mormon moment.”
He explained that people want to talk to him about his religion, asking him very obscure things about LDS tradition and religion. The musical has created talking points to discuss what’s really true about the LDS faith, Edwards explained.
Kymberly Mellen, an actress and former BYU faculty member, enjoyed the first part of the musical, but found offense in other parts.
She explained that in the first 35 minutes it didn’t seem malicious, there was no profanity or sexual references. However, she noted that that didn’t last for long. There were two numbers that especially made her feel uneasy because of profanity, ignorance and insensitivity.
“When I started feeling that way, I looked around and that’s when they were laughing the hardest,” Mellen said.
The parts of the play she felt were the most offensive, were the most funny to the other people surrounding her, watching the play as well.
“Most of the people in this room think I’m an idiot…and that just hurt my pride,” Mellen said.
Whether the panelists enjoyed the musical or not, there seemed to be an overall consensus that the musical was helpful in starting conversations about the LDS faith, and what its members really believe in.