FROM THIS vantage point, the most interesting aspect of the current production of "The Book of Mormon," which runs through Sept. 14 at the Forrest Theatre, is not to be found onstage. Instead, it can be seen in the show's playbill.
"Book of Mormon," of course, is the grimly unfunny musical "comedy" whose main targets are the history, beliefs, rituals and adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - more commonly known as the Mormon church. Which is why it's somewhat surprising to find three full-page advertisements sponsored by the Salt Lake City, Utah-based church in the show's program.
Each ad features a close up of a different person and each bears a message inviting readers to learn more about Mormonism. The most clever of the three is the one that bears the words: "You've seen the play . . . Now read the book," a reference to the sacred text of the church, also called the Book of Mormon. So what gives? Why would LDS financially support a production that pokes vicious fun at it?
The answer can be found in the church's official statement regarding the play: "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."
That's a message the Mormons have been spreading since "Book of Mormon" opened on Broadway, in 2010. "We have [taken out ads] in cities across the country where the production has been playing," explained Corinne Dougherty, the church's director of public affairs for the Philadelphia region. "As a church, we believe in having a response that is thoughtful and represents how we feel about our Scriptures - the Book of Mormon - to share with [those who see] 'The Book of Mormon' musical."
But doesn't such an investment imply approval and support of the play?
"We're working to not promote [the show] in any way, but we certainly want people to be aware of [the church's] Book of Mormon and how important it is to us as a faith," Dougherty said.
According to Dougherty, who has not seen the show, there are no data to confirm whether the ad campaign has had any effect on new membership. But, she noted, proselytization is not the purpose of the advertisements. Instead, she said, they are "just our response to encourage people who obviously have an interest in attending 'The Book of Mormon' musical, and to help them understand our perspective and where we place the value on the Scriptures.
"I think that the most important message that we want to be able to share with those who [see the musical] is that we have the Book of Mormon and it's about our savior, Jesus Christ. That's where we place the importance of spending our time and our views."
Ambler's Act II Playhouse has appointed Michael Donovan as its in-house comedy producer. In that capacity, Donovan, a local comedy-scene vet, will oversee the company's stand-up comedy presentations - something he's been doing on an independent basis for the past two years.
"Mike Donovan is a comedic class act - a 'stand-up' guy in more ways than one," Act II artistic director Tony Braithwaite said in a statement. "He's beloved and trusted in Philly comedy circles, and has also been a valuable asset to Act II Playhouse for a few years. I am elated he's joining the Act II family more officially now."
On Twitter: @chuckdarrow