Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Book of Mormon

"We modern-day sorts love to rib Latter-day Saints. There’s such rich material: the Osmonds, the bans on drinking, premarital sex, and caffeine(!), the back story (Jesus coming to America and converting the Indians, Joseph Smith digging up the golden plates), how teenaged missionaries are called 'elders.' Now Mormons are in for further teasing with The Book of Mormon (tagline: 'God’s Favorite Musical') opening on Broadway."
Matt Stone, one of the show's creators, described The Book of Mormon as "an atheist's love letter to religion."

For research purposes, the quartet took a field trip to Salt Lake City where they "interviewed a bunch of missionaries—or ex-missionaries." They had to work around Trey Parker and Matt Stone's South Park schedule. In 2006, Parker and Stone flew to London where they spent three weeks with Robert Lopez, who was working on the West End production of Avenue Q. There, the three wrote "four or five songs" and came up with the basic idea of the story. After a disagreement between Parker and Jeff Marx, who felt he was not getting enough creative control, Marx was separated from the project. For the next few years, the remaining trio met frequently to develop what they initially called The Book of Mormon: The Musical of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "There was a lot of hopping back and forth between L.A. and New York," Parker recalled.

There are numerous revealed changes from original script to final production. A song named "Family Home Evening", which was in early workshops of the show, was cut. The warlord in Uganda was called General Kony in previews but later changed to General Butt Fucking Naked. The song The "Bible Is A Trilogy" went through a major rewrite to become "All-American Prophet". The earlier version was based around how the third movie in movie trilogies is always the best one and sums everything up which led to a recurring Matrix joke where a Ugandan man said 'I thought the third Matrix was the worst one' which later changed to 'I have maggots in my scrotum' in the rewritten version. The song "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" was originally called "H-E Double Hockey Sticks".

The Book of Mormon premiered on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on March 24, 2011, following previews since February 24. On April 25, 2011, the producers confirmed that "counterfeit tickets to the Broadway production had been sold to and presented by theatergoers on at least five different occasions". An article in The New York Times reported, "In each case, the tickets were purchased on Craigslist, and while a single seller is suspected, the ticket purchases have taken place in different locations each time. ... [T]he production’s management and Jujamcyn Theaters, which operates the O’Neill, had notified the New York Police Department".

In the Broadway cast recording's liner notes, Frank Rich wrote that "The Book of Mormon scrupulously follows the old testament of Broadway circa 1945–1965, A.D., even while fondly spoofing it":
  • "Hello!" (the opening number) and "Turn It Off" evoke, respectively, "The Telephone Hour" in Bye Bye Birdie and "I’ll Never Be Jealous Again" from The Pajama Game. Other songs, Rich writes, owe much to the parodies of Tom Lehrer.
  • The reprise of "Orlando" harkens back to "Maria" from West Side Story, while "You And Me (But Mostly Me)" uses very similar chord progressions to "The Wizard and I" and "Defying Gravity" from Wicked.
  • "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" is strongly reminiscent of Alan Menken's "I wish..." ballads like "Somewhere That's Green", "Santa Fe", "Part of Your World" and "Out There".
  • "Hasa Diga Eebowai" starts as a gentle parody of The Lion King's "Hakuna Matata" and mentions the song before taking a radical turn.
  • In a series of interview segments for, Casey Nicholaw describes the scene of the Africans performing the "Joseph Smith American Moses" pageant before the Mission President as a "total riff" of the Siamese performance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" for the British envoy in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I.
  • Both Rich and Kristin Rawls see roots for "I Believe" in The Sound of Music—he in "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", and she in "I Have Confidence".
  • The opening scenes of Act I and II parody the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

"I don't think anybody would want to see a two-hour-long Mormon-bashing, and we wouldn't want to see that either," Parker tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "We love the goofiness of Mormon stories. Some of them are incredulous, and we loved almost all the Mormons that we had ever met. So this was sort of this conundrum that we like to talk about — we think what they believe is really, really ridiculous, and yet they seem like pretty happy people."

Take the creators of South Park and the composer of Avenue Q. Add solid musical storytelling, Mormons, Uganda, AIDS, a chorus line and a healthy amount of smut — and you have The Book of Mormon, Broadway's blasphemous, hilarious and oddly endearing new hit.

Because this is Parker and Stone, that dire setting is the frame for a show that features tap dancing and pop anthems, a Greek chorus and a Lion King-esque ensemble number. Along with critical acclaim, the musical has received largely positive feedback from Mormons who have seen the show, Parker says.

"The official church response was something along the lines of 'The Book of Mormon the musical might entertain you for a night, but the Book of Mormon,' — the book as scripture — 'will change your life through Jesus,' " Stone says. "Which we actually completely agree with. The Mormon church's response to this musical is almost like our Q.E.D. at the end of it. That's a cool, American response to a ribbing — a big musical that's done in their name."

"Before the church responded, a lot of people would ask us, 'Are you afraid of what the church would say?' And Trey and I were like, 'They're going to be cool.' And they were like, 'No, they're not. There are going to be protests.' And we were like, 'Nope, they're going to be cool.' We weren't that surprised by the church's response. We had faith in them."

Matt Stone: "We did take a field trip to Salt Lake City with Bobby Lopez, our co-writer, who had never been to Salt Lake City. And we interviewed a bunch of missionaries — or ex-missionaries. For us, it was pretty easy to find [these people]. We just talked to waiters in downtown Salt Lake City. Almost every single waiter had been on a mission. So that was where we got a lot of our research."

More information:
» The New Yorker: "God Squad"

No comments: