Friday, September 9, 2011

By THE BOOK: The Spread OF MORMON-ism

It really is a phenomenon.  At least on paper and implementation, Broadway, at long last has an American hit of national proportions!  No, not the web slinger.  Those humble, cute and wearers of black ties and name tags are slowly, but surely, taking over the nation's theatres.  I am speaking, of course, of The Book of Mormon.

I think you'd have to go back as far as A Chorus Line and Annie for an American musical to take this country by storm.  Those shows hit Broadway and they were EVERYWHERE.  Magazine covers, variety shows, the news... people who knew nothing about Broadway or theatre knew the songs "One" and "Tomorrow."  Very shortly after both of those shows swept the Tonys, National Tours sprang up and brought the phenomenon to the people.

Now remember, those shows became a huge deal when most of the country was just getting cable television, the Internet didn't exist, and neither did any form of social media.  Heck, you could only get tickets by mail, by phone or at the box office!

So, maybe the "power" of Mormon isn't actually quite as huge.  I mean it is easier for those of us in the sticks to find out about shows, see clips on YouTube, go to show websites and Tweet our fingers off.

You might be thinking, "Well, Cats, Les Miz and Phantom all became national sensations."  Sure they did.  But they also came with the momentum of big success in London.  And all three rewrote the book on advertising, merchandising and iconography.  They also were in the forefront of all the new media age, every step of the way. Personal computers, the Internet, DVD - you name it, if it was new and a way to get the word out to the masses they did it.  And all Broadway shows owe them a debt of gratitude for their pioneering work.

Maybe the closest we've come between Annie  and Mormon is The Producers, certainly a Broadway juggernaut, winning the most Tonys ever, and starting the whole Premium seat thing (not really a positive in my mind).  But, as we have since learned, perhaps it was really the superb original cast that made that show work, let alone be "great."  There were a couple of tours, and a healthy Broadway run.  But it surely didn't meet predictions.  It didn't even come close.

Which brings me back to those Mormon boys... so far they are doing everything they can to rewrite the success handbook.  They capitalize on their South Park roots, but without ever alienating those of us who aren't fans of that TV show.  They give away theatres full of free tickets, recognizing their biggest fans in the process.  They gave away the cast recording by having NPR play it and have it available to hear for free.  Then, they gave it away for a mere 99 cents on  And they are doing the TV circuit, but doling it out slowly.  No stink of desperation here...

Now comes news that the First National Tour will start 4 months early.  Yes, early.  And that Chicago will get its own Mormon company.  I have a feeling a third company isn't so far behind, either. 

OK, maybe the whole country can't hum "I Believe" like they could "One" or "Tomorrow."  And maybe they aren't based on a Disney film or a hit from London with a snazzy logo.  But it is one Broadway show that has hit the big time by the truest measure I know.

If my sports fanatic dad in Florida has heard about it and can speak knowledgeably about any aspect of it, then it is a national Broadway hit.  And just the other day, my dad asked me, "Have you seen that Mormon show?  I hear it is pretty funny.  Is it true Darth Vader is in it?"  Welcome to the big time, Elders Cunningham and Price.

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1 comment:

  1. Regarding the popular recognition of "Mormon" vs. "Annie" or "A Chorus Line," the media saturation of today goes both ways. True, it makes it easier to find out about Broadway shows (and everything else), but it also means there's even more competition for people's attention than there was back then.


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