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A ‘Hamilton’ spin on Church history? New musical aims for Broadway

by | Jul. 26, 2021

When George Nelson first saw the musical The Book of Mormon on Broadway, “It hurt my heart,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Nelson set out to create his own Broadway-quality show that removed the crude and offensive and focused more on the positive tenets of Latter-day Saint beliefs through the lens of the founding of the Church. Nelson told KSL News, “It’s the story of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ told through the love story of Joseph and Emma.”

And this wasn’t just an amateur’s approach. George Nelson is an award-winning director, a theater-arts studies professor at Brigham Young University, head of the university’s playwriting program, and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of Nelson’s early drafts included feedback from Kendra Lowe Holt, former musical director for David Archuleta. The show was choreographed by Adam Dyer, a contemporary dance professor at BYU and a former Broadway performer.

The musical also is very contemporary in its approach—think Hamilton, but for early Latter-day Saint history instead of the Founding Fathers—which may make it more appealing to a wider audience. It includes hip hop numbers, a racially diverse cast, and intense and fast-paced choreography. “We’re not trying to set it back in that time period,” Nelson told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We’re taking present actors and having them play these roles in our time. 

The show also doesn’t shy away from some of the more sensitive topics in early Church history, including polygamy.

“We’re trying to have people [take] another look at Joseph Smith,” Nelson told the Tribune. “We’re not trying to indoctrinate them into our church. . . . But we present [the Church’s teachings] in a way that I think they can spiritually kind of feel through the music and dance and the characters.”

Ultimately, Nelson wants to take the play to a much bigger audience. “I have a (Broadway) producer that is very interested in it. They are watching out this run, how it will go in Utah County,” he told KSL News. He also told the Tribune that he has contacts in London and Denmark who have expressed interest in the show as well. “I’ve done what I feel inspired to do,” he said, “and I would love it to have a broad reach outside of Utah to help people take a new look at the Restoration.”

After four years worth of work on Nelson’s part and months of production delays due to COVID-19, the show will have its first live run at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo starting August 6.

Get tickets and learn more about 1820: The Musical on its official website and read more about the creation and direction of the production from KSL News and The Salt Lake Tribune.

Lead image: 1820: The Musical official webpage screenshot
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