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The LDS Church has figured out that it's better to exploit the popularity of the Tony Award-winning "Book of Mormon" musical than to attack it.

To wit: the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has purchased ad space in the playbill for the Los Angeles run of the production.

The play, which has been selling out on Broadway, follows the hilarious antics of two Mormon missionaries assigned to proselytize in war-torn Uganda. The story spoofs LDS tenets, scriptures and history, but takes a goodnatured approach to the elders themselves. It has been described by theatergoers and critics as raunchy yet inspiring, mocking but affectionate.

Created by "South Park" writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, "The Book of Mormon" is slated to open next week at the Pantages in Los Angeles and run through Nov. 25, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

"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,' " the Times reported. "Another features a smiling woman with the words 'The book is always better.' "

The ads also list the URL, which takes theatergoers to an official site for the church, the story said.

"Patrons of the musical aren't likely to leave the theater with a better understanding of the Book of Mormon," LDS spokesman Michael Purdy said in a statement. "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 LA production," Purdy said, "and plans for future use have not been determined."

This latest effort takes the same tack as the church's initial response to 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."

So while the play is winning more applause, the church hopes its signature scripture may win more readers.

Peggy Fletcher Stack