“The Book of Mormon” is a bona fide stage phenomenon, combining the irreverent in-your-face comedy of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park,” “Orgazmo,” “Cannibal! The Musical,” “Team America: World Police”) with the flash and dash of Broadway. The musical will open at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts Tuesday, Nov. 26, and run through Dec. 22.
Following is an oral history of the satirical show and its road tour featuring Robert Lopez (two Tonys for book and score), Larry Hochman (a Tony as co-orchestrator), Chris John O’Neill (Elder Cunningham in the road tour) and Mark Evans (Elder Price in the road tour).
IN THE BEGINNING (THE BACK STORY)
“Watching the movie ‘South Park — Bigger, Longer, Uncut’ got us on the right track with ‘Avenue Q.’ We got the idea and ran with it because we knew we could.” — Lopez, who created “Avenue Q”
“I’d been a part of a comedy act, ‘The Chris and Paul Show, since 1999, when we started touring colleges and different festivals. One of the casting directors saw the show [at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe]. I was in the right place at the right time, in Scotland of all places, literally performing in a cave. I thought the audition was victory alone. I never even had a headshot before. We just took a camera and we went to the roof. Then we went to Kinko’s and printed crappy copies of my headshot.” — O’Neill
“[Trey Parker and Matt Stone] came to see ‘Avenue Q.’ We had a drink afterward where there were a lot of you?-me-too-wow moments. We all wanted [‘The Book of Mormon’] to say the same things: how religion can be true and false at the same time. Religious stories are powerful things. It really is the power of the story that is the power of religion. God doesn’t have to exist for him to exist. We knew there was a musical in it even though we didn’t know what the story was.” — Lopez
“When I was asked to go to a reading, not knowing anything about ‘Book of Mormon,’ I remember coming out of that and calling my wife and … [telling] her that I felt that … either I had consumed alcohol and don’t remember, or this is the funniest show I have ever seen. I was laughing so hard the whole time. It was just the most outrageous, funniest musical I had ever seen.” — Hochman
“I auditioned in London. I thought it was for the original West End run. They told me they were interested in me for Elder Price, but they didn’t specify where. They brought me over [to New York] to work with Chris, and [we] got along so well on- and offstage. We’re such good friends. A partnership is all about chemistry, and an audience can really tell if you have it or you don’t.” — Evans
“The reason I was interested in the idea of wanting to tackle religion as a satirical, topical subject was because I knew there was a lot of humor to be mined there. I didn’t have a personal connection, per se, but I was interested in it … for its themes.” — Lopez
“I’m obsessed with all of [Parker and Stone’s oeuvre]. I was packing up my apartment for this tour, and I found this VHS copy of ‘Orgazmo,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, my God — that’s my boss.” — O’Neill
“I remember loving ‘Team America.’ I bought the single by Chef [of ‘South Park’] — you know, ‘Chocolate Salty Balls.’ I have a tankard with Kenny on it that says, ‘Ohmigod, they killed Kenny.’ In July, I went to Wales to see my family. I remembered how when I was a teen I was watching ‘South Park,’ and now it’s my responsibility to tell that story. It’s amazing.” — Evans
“ ‘Book of Mormon’ was just a side project. ‘South Park’ was their bread and butter. We did it because it was fun, and it was kind of a break for them, and was something we all loved. Every time we got together, we got a laugh. We really enjoyed the process of working together.” — Lopez
“It’s a very British sense of humor, anyway. It’s very dry and sarcastic.” — Evans
“We had booked an off-Broadway theater, but when it came to pulling the trigger on that, we felt we were ready [for Broadway]. And by then, the show was really big, and it wouldn’t have fit in that theater anymore.” — Lopez
MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE (THE MUSIC)
“Before I got my first assignment, we had one all-day meeting with [co-orchestrator] Stephen Oremus and Bobby Lopez, and we went through quite a few songs, and he gave me and Stephen overall points of view and a few specifics on what he was going for. The only feedback I remember was in ‘Hello’ we subtracted some of the layers so that the vocals were not stepped on.” — Hochman
“In ‘Avenue Q,’ we design the puppets with ‘South Park’ in mind — that kid’s animation with the big eyes suckering you in before the boom is lowered. With ‘Mormon,’ there is a naivete to them, which from the outside is an image of wholesomeness that they project. That became the beginning of the show. When you first meet a Mormon missionary, they are appealing and friendly and warm. All they want to do is give you a book for free. That’s the ‘Hello’ song. It’s very ‘Bye Bye Birdie’-ish in the way we wrote it. That was sort of the key in how this could be a musical: Take those wholesome, naive characters and assign them to Uganda in the middle of strife and a humanitarian crisis. [Then, it’s] not just a light satire. It’s a hard-hitting geopolitical musical. But we didn’t have to leave the ‘Music Man’ or the Rodgers and Hammerstein DNA.” — Lopez
“Our basic operating MO is that Stephen [Oremus] would score the rhythm section and I would layer on the woodwinds, strings and brass. So we worked on every song together, one song at a time.” — Hochman
WITNESS TO ALL THE NATIONS (THE ROAD TOUR)
“We were off and running, and it hasn’t slowed down at all. Eight shows a week. It’s a crazy show. We’re onstage, like, 98 percent of the time. There’s no time to settle down and take it all in. It’s like you’re shot out of a cannon. — O’Neill
“There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders. This being an American-found religion, I had to do a lot of research. We saw the show in San Francisco and then took over the roles months later when the show was in Rochester, N.Y., which was near where the Mormon religion was founded. We all took a company field trip to Palmyra, where they have this pageant on how the golden plates were discovered. It was really an amazing moment for me, actually. For the first time, I met Mormon missionaries. It really helped me to … heighten the characters in my eye and give them a layer of reality and some genuine depth. I went onstage and had a firmer understanding on what I was trying to achieve as a missionary, to be away for two or three months. — Evans
“I find a way to make it new every night. A lot of it is reading the audience. I can read an audience in the first few minutes.” — O’Neill
IF YOU GO:
"The Book of Mormon"
When: Opens Nov. 26; 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays (6:30 p.m. Sundays); 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays (1 p.m. Sundays). Curtain is at 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22.
Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Contact: 954-462-0222 or BrowardCenter.org.