Oct. 29--Sandra Spencer has no intention of seeing the hit Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon." Neither does Lynn Whitcomb.
The Longwood residents, two of Central Florida's estimated 61,000 Mormons, don't object to the play's jabs at their religion. It's the crude humor in the show, which was co-written by the creators of TV's vulgar "South Park."
They "have an irreverent sense of humor. We know that," said Spencer. "I don't think it comes from a mean spirit. It's just the lens they look through."
Opening Tuesday in Orlando, "The Book of Mormon" tells the story of two Mormon missionaries in Uganda who have trouble attracting Africans to their faith. The play contains foul language, body references to what children call their "private parts" and an irreverent -- some would say blasphemous -- take on organized religion.
Despite those qualities -- or perhaps because of them -- "The Book of Mormon" became one of Broadway's biggest success stories soon after opening in 2011.
"It's such a phenomenon," said Jim Brown, musical-theater specialist for the University of Central Florida's theater department. "Most people end up loving it because of its message of respecting other people."
Still, the local presenter of Broadway touring shows took a cautious approach.
"We sent letters to our subscribers saying this could be considered controversial," said Ron Legler, president of Florida Theatrical Association. "You don't want to surprise anyone showing up."
Florida Theatrical also offered ticket packages that let subscribers opt out of attending "Book of Mormon."
The play won nine Tony awards in 2011, including best musical. As buzz grew, performances sold out months in advance, and hopefuls lined up daily for a ticket lottery. Today, more than two years after its opening, the best seats are still snapped up quickly and tickets can cost nearly $500. The top price in Orlando is $170.
A big reason for the show's popularity is its traditional feel-good heart under its vulgar exterior, Legler said. "It's shocking at first, but then you hear the songs, see the characters -- the warmth of the piece shines through."
Another draw: The fan base of "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who wrote "Book of Mormon" with Robert Perez, the co-creator of "Avenue Q," an adult puppet show that also was a Broadway sensation.
"They're following in the footsteps of people like Mel Brooks and the other great satirists," Brown said. "Satire goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. It can be funny and it can be rude, but it's also intelligent."
Most important for theater producers, satire attracts new -- and younger -- theatergoers.
"The young generation today is saturated in satire," said Brown, pointing to popular satirical television programs such as "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." "It's almost to the point that if it isn't satirical, they don't pay attention or they think it's too cheesy."
But the same aspects of "Mormon" that attract that new audience can be off-putting to others, he said.
In the case of Spencer and Whitcomb, their religion asks them to avoid coarse forms of entertainment. The women say they are pleased that the play paints Mormons as helpful and friendly, if too rule-obsessed, and shines a light on their faith -- even in its skewed manner.
"We're peculiar people, we admit that," Whitcomb joked. "But people going to the theater might be intrigued and look us up."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official name for the Mormon religion, also hopes the show piques theatergoers' interest.
The church's official response is a single sentence: "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."
The church also has used billboards and bought advertisements in the show's playbill to spread the message that if you've seen the musical, you should "read the book."
Whitcomb has heard some of the music from the show and said she enjoyed the melodies -- but not the lyrics, which include the F-word.
"Some of it is a little off-color for my taste," she said. "Well, not some of it -- all of it."
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'The Book of Mormon'
--What: Broadway touring musical comedy
--When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 10
--Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 411 W. Livingston St., Orlando
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