Officially opening tonight in Los Angeles, The Book of Mormon is receiving its West Coast premiere after taking Broadway by storm. The original musical, from “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” co-creator Robert Lopez, won nine Tony Awards in 2011, including Best Musical. The 12-week enagement is being held at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood and features original Broadway cast member Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham and Broadway star Gavin Creel as Elder Price.
A surprisingly loving lampoon of the Mormon religion, the musical follows two young missionaries to a Ugandan village where they try to spread their gospel in the face of some of the most horrific living conditions the world has to offer. Samantha Marie Ware also stars as Nabulungi, with Grey Henson as Elder McKinley and Kevin Mambo as Mafala Hatimbi.
ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to check out a performance during the preview weekend and participated in the below Q&A with Parker and Stone. In it, the pair discuss the seven-year journey it took to realize The Book of Mormon on Broadway, the incredible response from both theatergoers and the Mormon church and the possiblity of one day bringing the musical to the big screen.
Q: Theres a recurring gag with the I’ve got maggots scrotum line. At what point in the writing process did that come about and what were the lines that were thrown out?
Q: I was wondering about the character Butt F–ing Naked. How did that name come about?
Matt Stone: Really, he was based on Joseph Kony. Luckily we didn’t, but we toyed with just making it Kony. I mean, it is in northern Uganda where Kony has done his deeds. But now after the whole Joseph Kony thing this year I was so glad we didn’t do that because it sort of changed the context of it. That’s who it’s based on, though. The warlords in Liberia have such colorful names and we were reading about the one named General Butt Naked. We just ripped off his joke, basically.
Parker: We were like, “What’s better than Butt Naked? Butt F–ing Naked!”
Q: Can you talk about your plans to make “Book of Mormon” into a movie?
Q: Are you going to do another stage musical?
Stone: What we’re learning, they’re never done. They’re never done, done, done. We’re used to, especially with “South Park,” finishing the show and sending it off to get uploaded. It goes on the air and, the next morning, half the time, honestly, you could ask me and I wouldn’t be able to tell you what that show was about. We are so good at wiping the hard disk and being done. A movie is the same thing. Here’s a movie. Here, I hand it to you. It’s on DVD or whatever. A theater thing is just not like that. It needs to be taken care of. It’s weird.
Q: Do you like the process of doing this?
Parker: And it did take us seven years. We wouldn’t have wanted them say, “Okay, well that worked well,” and then try and crap one out in another two years. You know, do a “Miss Saigon” all over again.
Q: As fans of musical theater, you must be aware that there are so few original shows being done. They’re all based on a film or based on an existing property. Now that you’ve had this great success, do you feel responsible to keep going? You’re one of the few guys who can get an original show done on Broadway.
Stone: We want to do the movie remake thing! (laughs) We’re proud that it’s all an original thing, but it is a load of work. I don’t know if we’re responsible for another one. We honestly don’t have any plans.
Parker: We don’t even know what we’re doing for “South Park” in three weeks.
Q: What are some of the most profound changes between the New York version and the L.A. version?
Q: Is there any other sort of medium you guys would want to try at this point?
Q: Can you expand on how it’s been difficult doing a video game?
Q: You had a Mormon character in “Orgazmo” and in a “South Park” episode. Do you think you’ll come back to it at some point after this or is this kind of the finale?
Stone: Yeah, I think we should be done with it now.
Parker: It was another thing we connected over when we met in college. We both had this kind of fascination because we both knew Mormons growing up and my very first girlfriend was a Mormon. We had exposure to that and thought it was fascinating and goofy and wonderful and all this stuff. It did seem to kind of eek its way in all the time, but that’s why it just made sense for us to say, “Let’s do our big blowout Mormon story.”
Q: Since there’s a chance we could have a Mormon president this time next year, have you guys reached out to Governor Romney and invited him to the show? What do you think his reaction would be?
Q: You guys did a recent episode of “South Park” that was about breaking into musical theater. Was it autobiographical, based on your experiences working on “Book of Mormon”?
Q: When you open up the playbill, there are advertisements from the Mormon Church. Did that surprise you?
Q: Have you noticed any major differences between the audiences between coasts?
Q: You guys havent really dulled your edge in any way, but its become embraced on a huge level, sweeping the Tonys. Is it surreal that you continue to do what youve always done and the mainstream is kind of accepting that the Upper West Side old ladies are now coming to see you?
Stone: Its sad, right? Were old f–ers.
Parker: Were [thinking] were still these young guys in our 20’s being rebels!
Q: Does that same attitude keep you drawn into South Park? Has this success brought anything new to what youre doing with South Park?
Q: I know the production schedule on that show is punishing. Is it harder now that youre old men?
Parker: I was all about being Stan, but now I love being Stans dad. I identify way more with him now!
Q: Some of the musical numbers feel like homages to Jesus Christ Superstar and West Side Story. Was that your intention going in?
Stone: Im the least musical person between me and Bobby and Trey. Working with them is like having an encyclopedia of musical theatre history. Even in All American Prophet, there was a whole time it was going to be a hoedown. Wed play a hoedown version of it, and then wed play a polka version of it, and then a fast punk polka version of it. Making the album was fun because you have to go through all of these different styles. Ultimately, I think we all felt like, when youre putting together a musical, these guys are so good at saying, Well, you have to have this kind of song. You have to have this kind. So you cover the ballad, duet. You dont want to do the same song over and over and over. In trying to come up with a well-rounded show, you get to touch on all of that stuff and bring all of those musical styles in. Its really fun.
Q: Is there anything in the Mormon religion you wanted to stay away from?
Stone: I think thats probably the main reason Mormons like the show. Theyre so sick of that lazy joke. Its definitely part of their history and its not like its not there, but it just doesnt apply to mainstream Mormons anymore. I think that, in staying away from that, theyre just so appreciative that theres something mainstream that doesn’t have them saying, No, that was a hundred years ago. It just doesnt fit most of them.
Parker: And we wanted Mormons to buy tickets and take out ads in Playbill. (laughs)
Q: What was your first reaction to that?
Stone: I couldnt believe it. It was so cool.
Parker: We seriously, honestly talked about doing it ourselves a year-and-a-half ago. We were like, We should put a thing in the Playbill that says, If you want to know more about the Mormon Church, visit your local Temple. And then we said, Ah, no. Lets not do it. And they did it! Its great! There are three pages of it. One of them says, Youve seen the play, now read the book and I think thats awesome. But then another one says, The book is better! And I just disagree. (laughs) Definitely Act Two of ours is much, much better.
Q: What is the legal process involved in being able to show characters like Darth Vader. Do you get away with it because they look different?
Stone: Parody. But its obvious if you watch it that [George] Lucas wasnt involved. Thats an important thing. That people know he wasnt involved.
Q: And it’s the same with reference to “The Lion King”?
Q: The moral of the whole musical is a sort of balance between accepting religion as technically false but also embracing its value. Was that planned to be the message from the very beginning?
Q: The story for this is a very old-fashioned musical, pushing the story through with the songs. Was that always the plan?
Parker: The fascinating thing about musicals that we learned, too, is that, when you have a song and dance number, you can have a scene after it where someone says something to someone, but no one is going to get it.
Stone: Yeah, anything important that you really need people to hear, you’ve got to musicalize it. You’ve got to at least make it a little piece of a song or sometimes a whole song.
Parker: We had an early version with fewer songs, but there were parts where no one was paying attention because it was all about, “When is the next song coming?”
Stone: It needed to be in a song. If it’s not in a song, it’s not an important part of the show. But you have these book scenes to move people along and say, “Okay, they’re over here now.” But if you really want to say something, you have to musicalize it.
Q: What was the toughest number to crack?
Parker: There were versions of it where we talked way more about the Joseph Smith story and even way more about the actual Book of Mormon and what’s in that. Then we realized that it just started to be too much and people were tuning out. The problem was that you needed to know a certain amount about Joseph Smith for the ending to make sense. When the Africans regurgitate it as their own thing, you’ve got to know the original. We couldn’t just skip it. There were certain parts of it that we had to get across.
Stone: You’re just starting to get into this musical and then one of the characters pauses to tell you a story. It’s just a structural bump that we had trouble getting over, though I think we got pretty close. But that was, by far, the hardest song to do.
Q: How strong of a cinematic vision do you have in your head for a feature film version and, considering your busy schedules, would you ever consider letting someone else direct?
Parker: Once we made the decision to go to the theater, we made a bunch of decisions that were really best for the theater version of it. It would really take a rethinking. We wouldn’t want to just do this on film. We’d have to really rethink it. But I think we could redo it.
Q: Do you have a cast in mind?
Stone: A young cast would be cool. Younger than the cast we have on stage because you’d be much closer. But nobody really. Except for Justin Bieber, of course.
Q: This is sort of the third part of your Mormon trilogy…
Q: Of those three projects, do you have a favorite?
Stone: I think the opposite of that, that one of our biggest career regrets looking back is that we didn’t make “Orgazmo” a musical. It just seemed too crazy. But now I wish, looking back it would have been cool. It wouldn’t have hurt its box office, obviously.
Q: When you guys were writing this, did you hold back one song for the Oscar song?
Q: Do you ever watch the show and do a quick rewrite, adding or deleting lines?
Stone: It’s really a sweater thread.
Q: Are you involved with approving the touring cast?
Q: Can you talk about the new actors and what you think they bring to life in this touring version?
Q: Earlier, you mentioned writing it as an album. Was the storyline still intact?
Parker: And it’s pretty funny demos because we do the voices on “South Park” and Elder Cunningham ends up sounding pretty much like Butters.
For tickets to The Book of Mormon and a full listing of future tour venues, click here.
(Photo Credits: Joan Marcus)