Masters of the perverse lampoon organized religion in Tony award-winning musical that’s sweeping the country In the 16 years that “South Park” has been on television, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have taken on just about every religion, celebrity, government and taboo subject on the planet.
So perhaps it was a natural move for the self-proclaimed equal-opportunity offenders to tackle the ultimate cultural institution: The Broadway musical.
“Book of Mormon” begins its sold-out two-week Seattle run Tuesday. The perversely funny and critically acclaimed blockbuster mixes Mormon missionaries with an AIDS-ravaged African village.
Perhaps more amazing than its stellar box office numbers is the fact that “Book” has done something no recent musical has: pulled a new, younger generation away from their TV screens and gaming consoles and put them inside a musical theater.
With their animated sitcom, Parker and Stone have built a catalog of lampooned subjects that arguably no pair in American entertainment can match. No subject is too sacred or too scatological to be deconstructed and parodied. But unlike most comedic teams, the pair attacks from all sides, highlighting the ridiculousness of any political or social viewpoint, be it liberal, conservative or something else.
The Latter Day Saints are hardly new material for Stone and Parker. The men grew up with Mormon friends and an exposure to the church. In the 2003 “South Park” episode “All About Mormons,” the church’s history and the writing of the Book of Mormon are told through comedic flashbacks.
Themes from that episode made their way into the musical that opened on Broadway in March 2011. The story follows two LDS missionaries sent to Uganda, where they try to share the Book of Mormon with the locals. But the Ugandans, oppressed by a warlord, starvation and AIDS, are more interested in just surviving than hearing about religion.
While the fresh-faced, black-tie-wearing Mormons are the center of “Book,” the musical is a satire of organized religion as a whole – and the conventions of musical theater.
Technically, this isn’t Stone and Parker’s first musical. Their TV show’s movie version, “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” was a musical, and the pair collaborated on a black comedy film while still in college, “Cannibal! The Musical.”
But “Book of Mormon” is a musical phenomenon that no other current production can touch. The show won an eye-popping nine 2011 Tony awards (including Best Musical) and the soundtrack won the 2011 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.
If you want to see the New York version, you’ll have plenty of time to plan your visit – tickets are sold out months in advance. And considering the price of tickets from unofficial vendors (upwards of $600) for the Seattle show, you might find a trip to the Big Apple more economical.
However, a $25 per ticket lottery will be 21/2 hours before each Seattle show. Only 20 tickets per performance will be available and you’ll need to be present to win the chance to buy them.
Buyer beware: Counterfeit tickets sold on Craigslist have been a problem in New York and during the show’s tour around the nation.
The subject matter of “Book” makes its success all the more surprising. This isn’t a musical about a French uprising or a disfigured man living beneath an opera house. “Book” features lines like, “I have maggots in my scrotum” and a song (“Hasa Diga Eebowai”) that ... let’s just say it won’t be added to any hymnals.
The show is full of Stone’s and Parker’s uncensored, politically incorrect humor that zips from the profane to the profound at light speed. The pair had help with the production: Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”) is the composer.
“Book” made stars of its actors. Andrew Rannells originated the role of Elder Price before going on to star in Ryan Murphy’s NBC sitcom “The New Normal.” Josh Gad originated Elder Cunningham but has also left the show for this month’s new NBC comedy, “1600 Penn.” For the Seattle run, Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner lead the cast.
The LDS church’s reaction to the show was silence at first. Then, in response to unrelenting demand for comment, they issued mostly neutral statements that referenced the parodic nature of the musical.
But now, perhaps in response to “Book’s” staggering popularity, the church seems to have gotten fully onboard. During the Los Angeles run they placed advertising in the show’s playbill that used several clever phrases including, “The book is always better” and “You’ve seen the play ... now read the book.” For the Seattle show, the church has purchased three full page ads in the show’s playbill.
Perhaps they’ll use Eric Cartman’s catchphrase from “South Park”: “Respect my authoritah!” ‘Book of Mormon’
When: Tuesday-Jan. 20
Where: Paramount Theatre, Seattle
Tickets: Sold out, but unaffiliated and lottery tickets are still availableblog.thenewstribune.com/getout/