Trey Parker and Matt Stone on The Book of Mormon
We sit down with the South Park stars in advance of the musical’s Chicago premiere.
In 2004, the trio began work on The Book of Mormon, a process that took seven years. “Just as soon as we’d get a little bit of momentum with [Mormon], it’d be like, Okay, go ahead and come up with seven new episodes of South Park,” Parker says. “Which of course for us is a whole lifetime, because each one of those shows, we put so much into that.”
Stone and Parker relate what they call “a running joke” about note cards: “We still, with South Park or whatever it is, we work a lot with note cards, writing down [story] beats” and using them to determine a story’s shape, Parker says. “And every time we’d get together [to write Mormon], we’d kind of figure things out, and I would take the note cards and I would lose them.… [It was] like, ‘Isn’t this on those note cards?’ ‘Oh, who had the note cards?’ ‘I think I had the note cards.’ That conversation probably happened, like, 12 times.”
“At first no one was really sure whether it should be a movie or a play,” Lopez says. As the trio’s resident Tony winner, he provided some guidance on stage-musical realities, but “I looked up to [Parker and Stone] like influences and idols,” he says. “In my mind, the South Park musical [2001’s South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut] is a legitimate work of musical theater, even though it was for the screen. It’s got 11 songs in it, and they all work to tell the story, which is the key ingredient—that’s what people can’t do.”
But Lopez did introduce the South Park team to one element that eventually led Book of Mormon to Broadway, Stone says. “Bobby’s like, ‘You’ve got to do a workshop. You hire some actors, and get a little stage.’ And we’re like, ‘Really?’ ”
“With South Park a lot of times we’ll know as soon as we’re recording it, we’re like, this doesn’t really work,” Parker says. On the same note, seeing their in-progress Book of Mormon material performed in front of live audiences convinced the pair that the stage was their missionaries’ mark.
Casey Nicholaw, a director and choreographer known for Spamalot and The Drowsy Chaperone, became the final piece of the top creative team in 2010, two years after sitting in the invited audience for one of those early workshops.
“I think the thing I brought to it, at least at first, was fresh eyes,” Nicholaw says. “They’d been working on it for a long time.” The second act was in particular need of punching up, he says, as it was short on musical numbers. “Half of [my suggestions], they said, Wow, that’s a great idea; the other half, they were like”—here he adopts the voice of a teenager being reminded to clean his room—“We knoooooow.”