Comedic masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren’t strangers to the musical world – along with their debut film Cannibal: The Musical and the many catchy tunes of South Park, they also crafted one of the greatest movie musicals of all time: South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. Few artisans posses the ability to blend showtunes and scatological humor with such ease.
Now, the duo is taking their passion for musical satire to the Great White Way, launching their first Broadway show with a subject matter of which they are quite familiar. The Book of Mormon, written by Parker, Stone and Avenue Q co-writer Robert Lopez, tells the tale of two Mormon missionaries who travel to Uganda to convert the locals. Of course, it’s dirty as all hell.
A full run-down of the first 25 minutes of the show and a few of Parker and Stone’s thoughts, after the jump.
Don’t let the swear words and R-rated attitude fool you – The Book of Mormon is a traditional song-and-dance musical, the opening 25 minutes on par (and occasionally spoofing) Wicked, The Lion King and old school tuners like The Music Man. The opening number sets the stage with a quickie lesson in Mormon history leading to a group of young Mormon boys preparing to head off on their missions. The version we saw was sparse on sets, costumes and props, but watching religious soldiers ring doorbells and give their spiels has never rocked harder.
The setup leads introduces us to the two main characters: Elder Price, a strapping young Mormon lad eager to dive into the exciting world of missionary work, and Elder Cunningham, a bumbling, Jack Black-type twit, played by Josh Gad, who recently appeared alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in Love and Other Drugs. Price dreams of a perfect life in Orlando, Florida, while Cunningham is in need of a donut and a friend, but the two are quickly partnered up and shipped to the chaotic African land of Uganda. Price finds the silver lining with a show-stopper titled “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” in which he dreams of his near future.
Parker, Stone and Lopez layer on a bit of social commentary when the two arrive in Uganda, filling the set with impoverished Ugandans, dead donkeys, runaway chickens and accompanying it all with a musical lick reminiscent of Lion King. The boys arrive to the village and find themselves held at gunpoint by AK-47-wielding criminals. The other locals explain that that’s the cost of living and burst out into a Hakuna Matata-esque tribal song that literally translates to “Fuck You, God,” an ideology that worries the young missionaries and sets in motion the show’s main plot. Parker and Stone find a way to work in unmentionable lady parts and AIDS jokes for good measure, and as a rough whole, it kills.
After the preview, Parker, Stone and Lopez sat down to elaborate on their baby. Apparently, it took a chance meeting at a marionette performance for the three to meet and realize their common interest in the story of Mormonism founder Joseph Smith. It took them six years to finally realize the show, but the process couldn’t have been more enjoyable. Lopez, who was a big fan of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, found it easy to integrate himself into the duo’s collaborative process. “I was used to writing and re-writing, but these guys, because of South Park, shoot out ideas and make them work later.”
Parker and Stone have been integrating the Mormon religion into their work since the beginning of their careers – but why? “They’re so damn nice,” says Parker. The duo explains that the show isn’t out to bash Mormons, but to use them as a lens to look at all religions. Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, and it only began in the 1800s – it fascinates them. Lopez mentions that a Mormon friend his came by a workshop of the show: “He said, ‘you could be doing more of this! And include this!’” The creative team isn’t worried about Mormons, Stone adding, “I think most people who stay through the end will see a point.”
And that’s what defines their comedy. Beyond foul language and shock-you plot points (of which there will be many), Parker and Stone have always been about giving their material meaning, and The Book of Mormon should deliver on all fronts.
The Book of Mormon begins previews on February 24 and opens March 24.