News Column

Hot ticket: 'South Park' creators' 'Book of Mormon' lands in Austin

September 25, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 25--Perhaps there's no interview question asked more of Trey Parker and Matt Stone -- creators of the wildly popular and wholly irreverent cartoon series "South Park" -- than "Is there is any topic off limits?"

No, there isn't, the duo has answered time and time again.

Race, politics, gender relations, common decency -- they've all been skewered through the lens of "South Park" satire.

Is it any wonder, then, that Parker and Stone penned "The Book of Mormon," a hit Broadway musical that mocks organized religion, particularly Mormonism?

No, it isn't.

After all, they've skewered Catholicism, joked at Judaism, denounced Scientology and even depicted Muslim prophet Muhammad, an affront to many interpretations of Muslim doctrine.

The multiple Tony Award-winning, critically popular "The Book of Mormon" lands in Austin on Tuesday on its first national tour for a two-week run at the Bass Concert Hall.

Perhaps the real question is how Parker and Stone -- creators of a foul-mouthed, impudent, wickedly funny alternative cartoon sitcom -- came to write that most staid of entertainment vehicles, the Broadway musical.

Both grew up in different suburban Colorado enclaves before they met in the film program at UC-Boulder in 1992, bonding over their shared love of the irreverent humor of Monty Python.

And though Stone had more geeky tastes growing up, the musical theater bug bit Parker as a high school student. He stared in school and community musicals and devoured classic Rodgers and Hammerstein productions on video. Later Parker even briefly studied at the Berklee School of Music before enrolling in UC-Boulder.

But while their fellow students were desperately trying to be the next Francis Ford Coppola, Parker and Stone were busy collaborating on their first film, the super low-budget "Cannibal! The Musical," a campy take on the real life story of a 19th-century Colorado gold miner who supposedly resorted to cannibalism to survive a harsh winter.

Parker and Stone submitted "Cannibal" to the Sundance Film Festival where it was promptly rejected. (Years later, after their "South Park" fame, the pair released it on DVD.)

When "South Park" debuted in 1997, it was an immediate success, and Parker and Stone -- who not only do most of the writing for each show, but also voice many of the characters -- had their hands busy.

But while working on a side project -- "Team America: World Police," their 2004 satirical action comedy with a cast of marionettes -- Parker and Stone on a lark went to see "Avenue Q," a sarcastic coming-of-age musical with a cast of human and Muppet characters and an unlikely Broadway success.

Flipping through the playbill, the "South Park" duo just happened to notice that they were thanked profusely by "Avenue Q" songwriter Robert Lopez who named "South Park" as a defining influence.

It was a moment of musical comedy kismet. And soon Lopez was in cahoots with Parker and Stone.

But why Mormons?

Neither Parker nor Stone had grown up in religious families, but both knew their fare share of Mormons in Colorado, one state over from the Mormon-headquartered state of Utah. The American-created Church of Latter Day Saints with its headquarters in the American West just seemed like a quintessential vehicle for poking fun at organized religion and characters brimming with self-righteous zeal.

"The Book of Mormon" finds two young missionaries who -- rather than assigned to ring doorbells and win converts in suburban America -- are jettisoned out of their sheltered Mormon world and into a remote village in war-plagued Uganda where poverty, AIDS and violence are the reality.

"We were interested in missionaries because that's how most non-Mormons meet their first Mormon," Stone once told an interviewer.

(As part of their research, the creative trio even went to Palmyra, N.Y., birthplace of the Latter Day Saint movement and where Mormon religious founder Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon in 1830.)

A megahit by any measure, "The Book of Mormon," is not just a tough ticket to get in New York, but it regularly sells out on the road. (See box for information about a day-of-show lottery for last-minute low-priced tickets.)

"We always wanted to do a really great, big, traditional Broadway musical, because, to me, it's sort of the supreme art form of writing," Parker has said. "To get an idea across through song is just so gratifying, and it's so beautiful when it works."

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'The Book of Mormon'

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays from Tuesday through Oct. 13.

Where: Bass Concert Hall, University of Texas campus, 2450 Robert Dedman Drive.

Tickets: $39 to $139. A number of limited view seats and single seats are available for several performances. See box about day-of lottery tickets.

Information: 512-4776-606, www.texasperformingarts.org

Note: The show contains explicit language.

Ticket lottery

Given the popularity of "The Book of Mormon" -- and its tendency to sell out every show -- the producers have arranged to offer a limited number of low-price $25 tickets to each show via a day-of-show lottery.

The lottery policy:

Lottery entries will be accepted at the Bass Concert Hall 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.

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(c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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