Starting tomorrow, Los Angeles audiences will finally be able to learn what New Yorkers (and Tony voters) already figured out, just how amazing Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s The Book of Mormon is. The irreverent look at the methods of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been a hit on Broadway and is kicking off a national touring company in L.A. at the Pantages Theater, running through November 25th. The show follows golden boy Elder Price and perennial screw-up Elder Cunningham as they head off on their mission to Uganda. Met with more adversity than the two know what to do with, the Mormon missionaries struggle when what is needed of them isn’t what they had planned.
We got to discuss the show with Matt and Trey at a recent press event following a preview performance. When asked if there were any plans to adapt the musical into a movie Trey responded, “When we first started working on it seven years ago, we kind of toyed with the idea of it being a Broadway show or being a movie and obviously since Matt and I knew how to make a movie, we were like, ‘Let’s just make a movie, since we can do that pretty quickly.’ But we stuck with it and after we saw our first few workshops with an audience, we thought, ‘No, this’ll be cool as a show.’ As we were doing scenes, of course I was always visualizing it as a movie, because that’s what I do. So I don’t think it’ll be a really difficult thing. But it would be a pretty different animal when we’re done with it. We don’t talk about it or think about it too much right now. But it’s very possible, it would just take a lot of effort. We wouldn’t want to just do this on film. We’d have to really rethink it.”
No strangers to making jokes about religion, and Mormonism in particular, Matt and Trey are affectionate in their religion-bashing. The show manages to level its jokes at the faith, not the believers, which makes the show rise above an opportunity to ridicule. From stereotypes like Mormons being obsessed with Disney cartoons to the obvious jokes about Mormon attitudes on homosexuality, the musical handles it in such a way that you feel like you’ve been handed evidence for why it’s silly, but not an indictment on someone who happens to believe it, all while finding ways to make the f-word funny again.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has even shown a sense of humor about the show and purchased ads in the Playbill. Stone thinks the warm reception may be due to not resorting to the easy jokes. The creators stayed away from mentions of polygamy, mostly because it didn’t reflect the Church they set out to lampoon. Stone said, “They’re just so sick of that lazy joke. It just doesn’t apply to mainstream Mormons anymore.”
“And we wanted Mormons to buy tickets and take out ads in Playbill,” Parker concurred, “We seriously, honestly talked about doing it ourselves about a year and a half ago: ‘If you want to know more about the Mormon church, visit your local temple.’ And then we were like, ‘Naw, let’s not do it.’ And then they did it and it’s great. There’s three ads. One says, ‘You’ve seen the play, now read the book,’ which I think is awesome. The only thing I don’t like is the one that says, ‘The book is better,’ and I disagree. Definitely Act Two of ours is much, much better.”
The Book of Mormon is a superb musical, with fun and light-hearted songs so catchy you’ll find yourself humming them weeks later, but more than being a stellar musical, the show is a remarkable analysis of culture and perspective, both from a religion standpoint and a First- versus Third-World culture comparison. We laugh the entire time at the jokes being leveled about warlords, AIDS, baby rape, and female castration in Uganda, but it’s mildly unsettling when you realize these are real things, really happening. When the missionaries complain about their bad experiences in contrast to the Ugandans, in the catchiest song of the show, you realize the show goes beyond just Mormons to point out everyone’s naiveté. When discussing the Ugandan setting and the villain General Butt F**king Naked, Matt opened up that it was all taken from reality, “Really, he was based on Joseph Kony, and we thought of just calling him Kony but now after the Kony 2012 thing, we’re so glad we didn’t do that, because that would change the context of it. But the warlords there do have very colorful names. We figured, ‘What’s better than ‘Butt Naked?’ ‘Butt F–king Naked!'”
In the musical, Stone and Parker note that the Book of Mormon is the third part in a trilogy. While they were actually referring to the Book of Mormon the book, they could have just as easily been referring to the musical itself. Cannibal the Musical and Orgazmo were both heavily influenced by the writers’ desire to shine a light on the Mormon religion. While talking about how the musical relates to the two films, Trey Parker revealed that Orgazmo was originally set to be a musical. “The original idea was, that was supposed to be a musical and it just seemed too crazy. Now I wish, looking back, we’d done it. It wouldn’t have hurt the box office.” I couldn’t help but point out the trend of turning movies into musicals to which he responded, “True. Orgazmo on stage!”
The Book of Mormon opens September 12th and runs until November 25th at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. In an effort to make the show affordable for those who can’t normally attend a Broadway musical, Book of Mormon will also have a daily lottery for day-of-show tickets for $25 a piece to a stand-by line. Entries will be accepted at the theater box office two and a half hours prior to showtime.