Taking the high road, or throwing down the gauntlet? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has purchased ads promoting the faith in the playbill for the Los Angeles engagement of "The Book of Mormon," the satirical musical from the creators of TV's "South Park."
The show, which is currently in previews at the Pantages Theatre as part of a national tour, tells the comical story of two Mormon missionaries who travel to a remote African village. The musical pokes fun at the tenets of the Mormon Church, as well as those of other religions. It also targets a host of sensitive subjects such as AIDS and female circumcision.
The LDS Church has not purchased playbill ads for the Broadway run of the musical at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. The L.A. engagement is the first time the church has bought playbill ad space for the musical, and church officials are considering doing the same for other cities, according to a source.
"The Book of Mormon" is set to officially open at the Pantages on Sept. 12 and then run through Nov. 25. The tour kicked off last month in Denver.
The playbill for the musical is published by Playbill Inc., which creates programs for Broadway and off-Broadway productions as well as for shows across the country.
[Updated 1:55 p.m.] Michael Purdy, a spokesman for the Mormon church, issued the following statement on Thursday: "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.
"Currently, these ads are running only in the playbill for the L.A. production, and plans for future use have not been determined."
One of the ads that in the L.A. program features the face of a smiling man with the words "I've read the book." Another features a smiling woman with the words "The book is always better." The ads contain the URL thebookofmormon.org, which takes you to an official site for the church.
The musical's official website is bookofmormonbroadway.com.
Since the musical opened in New York last year, the Mormon Church has been conspicuously reticent about the show. The church released a brief statement in 2011: "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."