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Theatre: Book of Mormon Q & A with Trey Parker and Matt Stone

09.17.2012

When word spread that the creators of “South Park” and Robert Lopez of “Avenue Q” fame were going to create a musical, it just seemed crazy enough to work. However like much of what Trey Parker and Matt Stone had done before, “The Book of Mormon”- a comedy/musical about Mormon missionaries in Uganda – seemed like it might be a little too controversial, even for Broadway. That was before it opened to rave reviews and ultimately swept the Tony Awards with 9 wins including Best Musical.

JoBlo.com was lucky enough to be invited to one of the first performances of the touring company in Los Angeles at the historic Pantages Theatre. While our very own Jason Adams had the chance to see it in New York (you can read his review here), this was my very first (and hopefully not only) time. “The Book of Mormon” is a hysterically profane musical that manages to occasionally tug at your heartstrings. The musical numbers run the gamut from the strangely sweet “Baptize Me” to the wildly melodic “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” to the downright humorously inspiring “I Believe.” And much like the original cast, the touring company is just gosh darn great! Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner (the Cunningham standby for the Broadway production) were just perfect as Elder Price and Elder Cunningham.

After a fantastic performance of what may be my new favorite play, we had the chance to participate in a Q & A session with Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Once the play had ended, the two were ushered in ready to talk about the play, a little bit about “South Park” and just how much they wanted to turn ORGAZMO into a musical. They also talked about the prospect of bringing “The Book of Mormon” to the silver screen.

At what point in the writing process did the “maggots in my scrotum” come about and what were the lines thrown out before that?

Trey Parker: Before we even knew it would be a show about Mormons, [we said] let's write a musical about maggots in the scrotum [Laughing]. No, it actually is funny. That line started as, the song used to be called "The Bible is a Trilogy," the one that is now "All-American Prophet." And it made movie references. And it was kind of a joke that the third part of a trilogy is always the best movie, and how the third MATRIX was actually the best, which is a great joke [Laughing]. And so it ended up being that the African guy kind of stepped forward and said, "Can you imagine if 'The Matrix' had ended after the first one?' And the African guy actually said, [singing] "I actually thought the third one was the woooorst one," That was this thing that we had for the longest time. We finally decided, oh, it can't be the Bible is a trilogy; it doesn't make sense with the story anymore, so we changed it but we thought, awww, we lost that other thing. What else can he come forward and say? And that was it. It's a totally different joke.

Do you have any plans to make this into a movie?

Parker: We don't have any. The only thing is that when we first started working on it 7 years ago, we kind of toyed with the idea of it being a Broadway show but since Matt and I knew how to make a movie, we said, well, let's just make a movie, because we can do that pretty quickly. We stuck with it, and after we saw our first few workshops with an audience, we said, nah, this would be pretty cool as a stage thing. So it did, as we were doing scenes, I was always kind of visualizing it as a movie, because that was what I knew. I don’t think it would be a really difficult thing, but also it would be a pretty different animal once we were done with it. But we don't talk about it too much right now or think about it, but it's very possible.

Is there any interest in doing another stage musical?

Parker: I don't know. These are hard [Laughing].

Matt Stone: And what we're learning is that they're never done. They are never done done done. With especially "South Park," we finish the show, we send it off to get downloaded, it goes on the air the next morning and half the time if you asked me I wouldn't be able to tell you what it was about. We are so good at wiping the hard disk and being done a movie is the same thing… a theater thing just is not like that it needs to be taken care of.

Do you like the process of doing it?

Stone: Some parts of it yes, but some parts of it no [Laughing]. It’s just new, it’s a different thing. It needs to be taken care of. And like with a new company… it’s a great show but it’s a different show so you’ve got to find the strength in the actors and stuff. And it did take us seven years, and we wouldn’t want to say, well that worked well and then try to crap one out in two years and do a “Miss Saigon” all over again [Laughing].

You’ve been talking about Mormon’s on “South Park,” CANNIBAL THE MUSICAL and ORGAZMO. Do you think you’ll come back to it? Parker: I hope we're done. It was another thing we connected over when we met in college, we both had this fascination just because we both knew Mormons growing up and my very first girlfriend was a Mormon. So we had exposure to that and we thought it was fascinating and goofy and wonderful and all this stuff, so it did seem to kind of eke it's way in all the time. So that’s why it did make sense to do our big blow out Mormon thing.

Have you reached out to Governor Mitt Romney? Has he seen the show yet?

Stone: He's been invited. He's said he's going to come when he has time.

Parker: If he gets elected, it's because of us [Laughing].

And if he doesn't get elected?

Trey: It's because of us [Laughing].

Have you been surprised by how warmly the Mormon community has embraced you? You open up the Playbill and they are running ads for the actual “Book of Mormon.”

Parker: We’re the only ones that aren’t surprised.

Stone: We've been telling people since the very first interviews we did for this whole thing when we were telling people what this was… before it was on Broadway and no one had seen it, we've been fielding that question for two years, and we were the only ones saying they're going to be totally cool with it, you watch, that's the way Mormons are. They've just proven themselves. They've just put a nice little period at the end of the whole musical.

Parker: No matter what they do, they will out nice us, guaranteed.

Did you consider incorporating some kind of Mitt Romney - arguably the most popular Mormon right now - reference to the show?

Parker: Really this show was done before he was anybody. I mean, I know he ran in the last election.

What about before the Los Angeles run?

Parker: This show is much bigger and more important than the President of the United States [Laughing].

Is it surreal to win Tony awards while continuing to do what you’ve always done, and how the mainstream has kind of accepted it this way?

Parker: We're in our forties, so we're not so far away from being Upper West Side old ladies [Laughing]. We're kind of pre-seniors. I remember having that feeling, watching people at the Broadway show and seeing this little old lady with gray hair or whatever and I’d be, oh, what's she going to think? And I'm like, that lady is twenty years older than me [Laughing]. Sad, right? We're old fuckers. We think we're these young guys in our 20s being rebels [Laughing].

Has the success of this show altered the way you approach "South Park" – which is going strong after several seasons – what if anything has changed?

Parker: Well we always do… because of the fact we still write and direct every episode ourselves, we haven't handed it off, even if it isn't a better show it is a fresh show because we want to do something different all the time. And we don't want to just do Cartman's fat and likes Cheesy Poofs. It's funny, it's like being in a band and having all these albums to look back on and go, oh, that's where we were in our lives then, and this is where we're at now.

But as you get older, I know the production schedule on that show is punishing…

Stone: The story lines, luckily we created a town, because there are more story lines that are the adults. Now we are more interested in the adult story lines.

Parker: I was all about being Stan, but now I love being Stan's dad. I identify way more with him now.

In the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” sequence you added the Starbucks reference. Was there anything that you came up with that didn’t make it in?

Parker: Anything that was funny made it in. Anything that didn’t make it in was just a bad idea [Laughing].

Is there anything you won’t make fun of?

Parker: The only thing was the polygamy thing, only because we wanted to do your everyday Salt Lake City Mormon. And obviously we do the stereotype of that, too, but that's the misconception among a lot of people, was like, oh Mormons, they're polygamists. No they're not, actually. But they obviously have that in their history and there are some fundamentalists that are. Because of "Big Love" and all these things, it was also like joke wise, it's just been so done.

Stone: I think that's why probably the main reason Mormons like the show. They're so sick of that lazy joke. It's definitely a part of their history and it's there. But we just wanted to stay away from that because it's been done. I think they're so appreciative that there's something mainstream and it's not, no, that was 100 years ago. It just doesn’t apply to them now.

Parker: And we wanted Mormons to buy tickets and take out ads in Playbill.

What was your reaction to that?

Parker: It was awesome. 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 we're like, nah. And they did it. It's great. The only one I don't like, because there's three pages of it, is one page says… the book is better. I disagree [Laughing]. Definitely act two of ours is much, much better [than the Book of Mormon].

The theme of the show seems to be that religion is bullshit but it’s helpful…

Parker: Kind of, I mean, it’s always been this way, any episode of "South Park" that' kind of got a point to it and it always ends up being the last thing we do. With TEAM AMERICA, it was the same thing. That whole “pussys, dicks and assholes” thing [Laughing] was the last thing. We try not to start with an agenda, we really like more doing a show like this and it showing us that this is kind of what we are saying or where it is headed. With this, it really was just the fact that to me, to us, the stories of "Star Wars" and all these things were just as valid and just as real, and you can say there was no Darth Vader and why would Darth Vader has done this, but it points at something way bigger than that. Just us as storytellers, and lovers of stories, if nothing else in the last twenty years that is what Matt and I really dug doing is becoming better at the craft of storytelling. That is why we try to make “South Park” not just gags but really get into the story of it, you know, the beginning, middle and end of it, and that is what we love. It really is more a love of that than a love of religion.

If you did do a movie version of "The Book of Mormon," would you let anyone else direct?

Parker: No, nobody else is directing [Laughing].

Stone: Cinematic vision is pretty strong [Laughing]. I think we want to do a movie someday of it, but right now we're just trying to get our head around it.

Parker: One we decided we wanted to go theater, we made a lot of decisions that were best for the theater version of it. We wouldn't want to just do this on film. We'd have to really rethink it, but I think we could do it.

So, who's in your dream cast?

Parker: Justin Bieber as Elder Price [Laughing].

Stone: A younger cast would be cool, younger than this, because you'd be much closer, but no ideas really. Except for Justin Bieber, of course [Laughing]!

The theme of the third part of the trilogy always being the best, this is sort of the third part of your Mormon trilogy…

Parker: It is like MATRIX part 3 [Laughing].

Out of the three projects, which of them do you hold closest to your heart?

Parker: This one has made far more money, so this one [Laughing].

Stone: I think the opposite is true. One of our biggest career regrets, looking back, is that we didn't make ORGAZMO a musical. It just seemed too crazy, and it was too crazy. But know I wish looking back… it wasn't going to hurt its box office potential [Laughing].
Extra Tidbit: For those of you in the Los Angeles area, I cannot recommend “The Book of Mormon” enough. This production runs until November 25. If you want to experience a great night of theatre, you can check out the show times and ticket prices here.
Source: JoBlo.com

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