NEW YORK – “The Book of Mormon” arrived on Broadway like a bawdy toddler, cursing and making poo jokes, but winning hearts anyway. Now, it’s ready for a road trip.
The nine-time Tony Award-winning musical opens its first national tour in Denver this month after its creators have gently prepared the little sister version to stagger off without them.
“Doing a musical is like having a kid,” said Trey Parker during a break in rehearsals in New York. “It’s out there alive somewhere. It’s not like a movie or a TV show where what we intended is what everyone will see. The kid can act out. The kid’s going to do what it wants to do.”
Parker, with fellow “South Park” writer Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” co-creator Robert Lopez, have left little to chance, showing up every day to make sure the touring company is up to snuff.
“It does need a parent sometimes to come in and say, ‘Hey!’” said Parker. “In a way, each production is kind of like a kid, too, because they do have a little bit different personality and there’s different things you have to worry about.”
Jokes Stone: “I think I’m going to like my third kid the best.”
“The Book of Mormon” was crowned best musical for its offensive yet good-natured look at two missionaries who arrive in Uganda and get way more than they bargained for, including gun-toting warlords and a running gag about maggots in a man’s scrotum.
It quickly became the hottest ticket on Broadway – last week, it was again sold out and had Broadway’s highest average ticket price at $186. The show also won a Grammy Award and recouped its $11.4 million capitalization after just nine months. A tour made sense, especially since box-office numbers haven’t softened since it opened in March 2011.
The tour, led by Gavin Creel, opens tonight at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver and runs until Sept. 2, and then it hits more than 15 cities including Los Angeles; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; Des Moines, Iowa; Minneapolis; St. Louis; Rochester, N.Y.; Detroit; Pittsburgh; Boston; Toronto; Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland; and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., by next summer.
There’s more on tap: Another production is slated to open in Chicago in December and by March 2013 all the silliness will be available at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London.
“Once they do it on Carnival Cruise Lines, we’re done,” said Parker.
So far, there are no plans to turn the property into a film. Parker said they might if the movie version was “totally different and its own thing,” adding: “People won’t necessarily expect what it turns out to be.”
The creators have made no changes to the story or score for the touring stage version, although they did have to make a slight tweak to accommodate the much larger venues the show will now play in.
“We added a couple of Africans to populate Africa a little bit. But that’s it. The show’s the show,” said Parker, who adds, straight-faced: “We’ve written pure gold. It’s hard to screw it up.”
While that may be hard to deny, the trio insist they had no idea “The Book of Mormon” would become the massive hit it has become when they first delivered their baby on Broadway.
Parker just hoped it didn’t close quickly. His secret wish? That it became “biggish.” Stone also was risk-averse: “I didn’t want to fail. Maybe that’s a year and a-half or a year.”
Parker says all three are used to being on the outside looking in, whether it’s with the foul-mouthed kids from “South Park” or the foul-mouthed puppets of “Avenue Q.”
“We’ve never been the top dog. We’ve always been the weird little show over here flipping off the teacher,” he said. “And so to be, all of a sudden, The Show? We’re not totally comfortable. We don’t know what that feels like.”
Jokes Lopez: “I’m still not OK with it.”
Parker and Stone first met Lopez after a performance of his “Avenue Q,” the funny, often raunchy musical tribulations of twentysomethings. Lopez credited the “South Park” guys with laying the groundwork for his quirky, profane musical and they, in turn, told Lopez he had inspired them.
“I kind of had counted Broadway out for dead. It was all remakes of movies. It was always something rehashed,” says Parker. “If nothing else, I’ll be most proud if we somehow change Broadway just a little bit and make more original stuff come out.”
The three have discussed working together again, but so far a story like the one that tumbled out organically about Mormon missionaries hasn’t emerged.
“We’ve thought of it. We just haven’t thought up the idea,” says Lopez, who is working on a comedy project with his brother for ABC. Adds Stone: “We’re just waiting for `aha!”’