Adam Goldstein

Q&A with ‘Book of Mormon,’ ‘South Park’ creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker

  • book-of-mormon

It didn’t take long for The Book of Mormon to win massive critical acclaim after its debut at the Eugene O’Neil theater in New York last year. The musical by Colorado natives and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone quickly won over the critics, and would go on to pick up nine Tony Awards. In January, tickets for the Denver stop on the inaugural tour sold out within a matter hours.

Even with all that success and attention under their belts, Stone and Parker insist that the debut of the touring production that’s set for the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on Aug. 14 will stand as a new step for the show. In addition to the Ellie’s greater capacity (the theater seats about twice the crowd as the O’Neil), the show in Denver will introduce a new cast to audiences. The stop has also given the writers the chance to make some familiar stops (the pair treated the entire cast and crew to dinner at Casa Bonita) and find new facets in a show that’s still fairly new.

We caught up with Parker and Stone to talk about the creative process behind the musical, the tributes to classic Broadway combined with the pair’s subversive brand of humor and their favorite stops in Colorado. Look for further coverage and additional coverage in days before the show’s debut.

Aurora Sentinel: It seems like there’s a dual dynamic to the progression of this show. On one hand, the roots stretch back seven years, but I also read that you didn’t get to hear the final orchestration of the show until a week before the premiere.

Trey Parker: That’s normal. You get in and you do that the whole thing called tech. You’re stopping and starting the whole show every two seconds and it’s like, ‘OK, well when do we get to run the show and see it?’ ‘Oh, we’ll do that on Tuesday.’

Matt Stone: The analogy I’d use … We were in the middle of this and we were like, ‘This is tomorrow?’ That’s compared to film where you get to look at something over and sculpt it. It’s kind of like if you cooked stir fry, you go get the meat from the market, then you grew spices in your garden for months, then you got vegetables from someplace in Europe and you cook it all in a minute.

It’s like you worked on all the ingredients and the parts and then it was thrown together in the last six days. With this cast, we’ll have the orchestration tomorrow. It’s less of a deal this time, because we’ve obviously heard the Broadway version, but it’s the same timeline. We hadn’t heard the show with the orchestra until a week before everyone else in the world did. So, we were turned off by that … We’re going to see the show beginning to end three days before the first paid preview.

TP: That’s what everyone does. But you realize that everyone here is a total professional, and they’re going to run it and it’s going to be fine.

MS: They’re professional actors, and they’re really, really good and people bring their A-game. I guess their side of it is that they need that audience. They don’t want to do it anymore to an empty audience. I get that, too.

AS: As Colorado natives, is there any special significance debuting the show at the Buell? Did you make any stops here on field trips as kids?

TP: You have to launch a tour somewhere. We have to spend three weeks in some city, besides New York and L.A., and it’s great that it’s here with our family and our friends. It’s great to be somewhere we’re familiar with.

We’re in Colorado a lot because we have friends and family here … It still feels a bit like home, which is great.

MS: Yeah, my dad taught at Auraria … Just this area I came to all the time.

TP: And this theater is so much bigger than our Broadway theater. It’s kind of like, ‘Wow, we’re big time.’ It feels weird to step up.

AS: The structure and content of the show seems to draw so much from classic Broadway. In addition to the edgy, subversive elements of the show, it feels like the show includes a real homage to the history of musical theater.

TP: The work on ‘South Park,’ nine times out of ten, is we’ll be like, ‘OK, maybe Stan will do this,’ and then, ‘What was that one movie?’ We’ll start talking about it, and say, ‘Oh it’s like that movie, oh yeah, it’s like that movie.’ We’ll reference other things, and when you’re creating something from nothing, you need those reference points.

I think very early on, with this, we were like, ‘It would be funny if it were like ‘The King and I’ and regurgitate it back. We just kind of work that way where you use (material), and in a way, we just try to take everything a step beyond parody.

You can just fully parody it or take what they were doing and add it into the mix of all of this other stuff. That’s what we thought about, was the whole storytelling and all of that mythology and everything, and how we realized that so many movies and so many shows are the same thing.

MS: (Co-creator Bobby Lopez), he knows musicals up and down, like obscure musicals … But a lot of the ones that we talked about doing this are even the ones I know about: The Music Man, and the similarities to the ending of The King & I. Like Trey said, all of that stuff, it opens up ideas.

AS: The score seems to include similar cues to classic Broadway shows.

TP: We had this experience with the “South Park” movie, it was kind of what I was good at, which was ditties and hooks and turning a song into a joke and a joke into a song. Just doing these little ditties that were really funny little songs and blowing them up into something, we really had experience with that doing the “South Park” movie. This was sort of the same way, but with the gist of every song, the show grew up around the songs. It was really like, ‘All right, what’s a really funny idea for a song at a moment like this?’ And we would figure out the joke of the song before we’d write the song. Knowing the joke, you’d start to know the hook, just the chorus. Then the verses you could sing this kind of stuff.

MS: ‘Baptize Me,’ for example, we circled around for three days with this idea … We started with just, ‘What would a love song be in this? During someone’s baptism?’

TP: We actually found some baptism songs where the woman was like, ‘He’s going to shower me in his love.’ (Laughs).

MS: Once we made that joke, that song was written in an afternoon. But we talked about the concept for days, but once it was like, ‘That’s the joke.’

TP: ‘Turn It Off,’ that was very much a ditty kind of song that I had. The joke … was really just the gay part. At the time, we thought that maybe even the lead character would think he was gay. We ended up changing that, but that’s a great example of a song that just grew. Bobby added stuff to it, then Casey came in and added a bunch of stuff to it to make it a bigger dance number.

AS: How long are you going to be following the touring company?

MS: We’re going to be here through opening night, and then we get to take a couple of weeks off. Then we have to go back to L.A. to do ‘South Park’ anyway, so we’re going to go with the show. We’re going to do a big opening night in L.A. too just for fun, because that’s the other place where we live. Then that’s it. Then it goes off on its own.

TP: As a director, I’m supposed to check in every once in a while to make sure it’s not an abomination.

AS: How has it been revisiting the same material with a new touring troupe?

TP: It’s great, it’s fun. It makes it fun for us, because if it was exactly the same every night, we’d be wanting to hang ourselves. Luckily, with this cast, the show is different. We haven’t changed a word, script or music-wise, but the show’s just different because it’s different people and they bring a different life to it.

It’s fun for us, because we’re laughing at places we haven’t laughed before, and we are watching and discovering things that we never knew applied.

AS: Tickets to the first run in Denver sold out within hours, and it was recently announced that the show will return to the Buell in October. Were you anticipating such an enthusiastic reaction to the show in Colorado?

MS: The way that you book a tour, you have to book everything so far out. We weren’t sure it was going to sell, and you want to be conservative for your first tour. They told us, ‘You can always go back.’ What you don’t want to do is book a bunch of weeks in a town, then have a bunch of tickets available and have it seen as a turkey.

Once it sold out so fast, we talked about when could we bring it back. Luckily, we got to announce it while we were here, which was cool. Maybe some of the scalpers’ prices will come down based on the fact that we’re coming back. Don’t pay $1,000 for tickets.

AS: I know the Denver Center made specific efforts to derail scalpers.

MS: There’s really nothing you can do about it.

TP: It sucks, because I’m one of the reasons why StubHub exists, because I’m the one who will pay $10,000 for Broncos sideline tickets. (Laughs).

AS: I heard that you treated the entire cast to dinner at Casa Bonita. Are there any other sights you make sure to see when you’re in town?

TP: For me, even coming to Denver was a big deal, because it was just far enough away from Conifer that it was like you only came down here on a weekend … Downtown Denver … still feels foreign.

I took my girlfriend to Boulder where I went to school, and I took them to the house I grew up in in Conifer.

MS: For me, I’ve got a couple of friends … In their backyard, drinking beer, barbecuing, in the summer – that’s my sweet spot. I like that. They’re really good friends of mine. When I think about what I want to do in Denver, it’s to go to my friends’ backyard, you know.

It sounds so corny, but growing up here and being able to see the rain coming … that just doesn’t happen in L.A. I love the dramatic weather, the late afternoons and evenings.

AS: Beyond all the surface elements – the trademark brand of humor, the nods to the history of Broadway – what would say is the underlying theme of The Book of Mormon?

TP: All religions are funny, made-up little stories, and there’s something really cool about that. It’s like football, if you stop to really think about it, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s extremely fun.

MS: Religion is ridiculous, but that’s sort of what we do. The transmission of stories is kind of what makes humans humans.

THE BOOK OF MORMON will play at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House from Aug. 14 to Sept. 2. The show will return for an additional run at the Buell Theatre in October. While the majority of tickets for the upcoming run have been sold, the theater will conduct a lottery for $25 tickets for every show of the run.

From the Denver Center for the Performing Arts release: “THE BOOK OF MORMON, winner of nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, is pleased to announce a lottery ticket policy for the National Tour, which launches August 14 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver and plays a limited engagement through September 2.  In Denver, the production will make 24 tickets available for all performances at $25 apiece.  

 The lottery for the Broadway production has proven to be wildly popular.  The producers of THE BOOK OF MORMON are pleased to offer low-priced lottery seats for every city on the National Tour as a thank you to the show’s fans on the road.

 Entries will be accepted at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House box office beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance; each person will print their name and the number of tickets (1 or 2) they wish to purchase on a card that is provided. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of tickets priced at $25 each. Only one entry is allowed per person. Cards are checked for duplication prior to drawing. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets. Limit one entry per person and two tickets per winner. Tickets are subject to availability.”

Information: denvercenter.org or bookofmormonthemusical.com.

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