The Book of Mormon is a now a little less shocking


The proposition of making it less offensive for audiences is a major head-scratcher.

by Allen Therisa in Musicals

Gloriously provocative and amusing
Gloriously provocative and amusing

In a not entirely surprising move, The Book of Mormon has recently been tweaked to make it less offensive as part of a theatrical revival its New York and London. This tweaking (a polite term for "editing") was undertaken in an attempt to "sharpen the satire of Mormonism," according to The New York Times, and "give the Ugandan villagers more agency."

For those unfamiliar with The Book of Mormon, much of its action takes place in Uganda.

In the revised version of the musical, a "gag in which the villager Nabulungi [the female lead] tries to send a text using a typewriter is gone; now she has an iPad, and the joke is no longer about her lack of sophistication, but about the unreliability of social media." The New York Times also reports that "toward the end of the show, it is Nabulungi, not a white missionary, who scares away a warlord."

As anyone who has seen The Book of Mormon, or who has heard its soundtrack, these sentences will be either amusing or appalling, depending on your point of view. For those who are unfamiliar with Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone's biting musical satire, it may not be so meaningful. Most people, however, whether fans of The Book of Mormon or not, will probably be familiar with the principles of historical editing and the practice of offence archaeology, as it is now pretty run-of-the-mill across media, academia and the arts.

Even Hamilton, the award-winning and hugely popular recent musical hit, particularly with young liberals, has experienced such editing, to (yes, oh yes) make it less offensive to those of a delicate cultural disposition. So, the second act of Hamilton now begins with Thomas Jefferson singing What'd I Miss? while a dancer playing Sally Hemings, the black slave who bore him multiple children, turns her back on him.

Making The Book of Mormon more cuddly

With The Book of Mormon, however, the proposition of making it less offensive for audiences is a major head-scratcher, as the whole point of the show is to offend from beginning to end. The musical is entirely premised on shocking and tickling its audiences in equal measure, whilst also encouraging them to whistle its catchy tunes on the way out of the theatre.

It is also an exercise in challenging thought, as well as being a cultural-political stimulus of the senses on every level. The superficial take from social media of the show may be its witty headline songs and apparent poking at the curiosities of the Mormon faith (and by insinuation all religious faiths), but this is also the musical that features jolly songs about female circumcision, child rape, AIDS and the devastating effects of poverty in Africa.

It's a shocker all right, and it is meant to be.

The Tony Award-winning show has also been a massive hit, after premiering in 2011 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York, as well as a worldwide commercial success, regardless, or perhaps because of, its intrinsic shock value.

Which raises the not unrelated questions as to how you clean up The Book of Mormon to make it easier on any sensitive souls that may find themselves watching the show from the stalls, and what the hell will be left in it without its lusty provocations?

A few jokes about Salt Lake City and a cute homoerotic subplot?

Which in itself will probably provoke offence in parts of its audience.

Tweaking the show to make it safer for audiences could result in a show that is tamer, duller, and ultimately a satire both on its former risqué success and the very process of historical editing. Which would be a highly ironic and deeply depressing outcome in itself.

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