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Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America$
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Jake Johnson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042515

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042515.001.0001

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“Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice, and Hear the Word of God”

“Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice, and Hear the Word of God”

The Voice and Mormon Theatricality

(p.32) 1 “Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice, and Hear the Word of God”
Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America

Jake Johnson

University of Illinois Press

This chapter traces the roots of a musical theater aesthetic in Mormonism by arguing that vocal theatricality is a theological principle in the faith, to the degree that Mormonism is built upon a theology of voice. Two stories of vocal theatricality in early Mormon lore--namely, when Brigham Young mimics the voice of slain Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and when Book of Mormon prophet Nephi impersonates his slain ecclesiastical leader in order to obtain a set of sacred records--exemplify the Mormon ideal of a disciplined voice capable of speaking literally the voice of another person. This practice of vocal modeling is understood by Mormons to be a divine trait, one practiced by Jesus and other spiritual leaders in Mormon mythology, including modern-day Mormon prophets; learning how to do this well in effect prepares the faithful Mormon to someday be god-like himself. This chapter argues that it is a short leap from vocal theatricality in everyday contexts to vocal theatricality on the musical stage and suggests that Mormons turned to musical theater so readily in the twentieth century in part because it offered a secular platform to practice vocal theatrics.

Keywords:   voice, prophets, mimicry, impersonate, Mormon, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon, vocal theatricality, musical theater

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