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'burn in hell' South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone on new musical comedy taking theatre world by storm

'We thought we really wanted to just open up a Broadway show, have it be successful, and we thought we could do that'

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Trey Parker and Matt Stone

Trey Parker and Matt Stone

Trey Parker and Matt Stone

If you head along to the Bord Gais Theatre to catch Book of Mormon expecting to get a religious insight or talking to you will be disappointed.

Written and devised by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone the satirical comedy is one of the most successful musicals on the planet right now and is centred around a pair of mismatched teen Mormon missionaries who attempt to spread the word in Africa.

The controversial show has entertained over 17 million people in Broadway, the West End, Canada and now the rest of Europe since it opened a decade ago it is now in the Bord Gais Theatre in Dublin for a limited run.

“We thought we really wanted to just open up a Broadway show, have it be successful, and we thought we could do that,” explains Trey Parker.

“But we didn’t think it would be this. We did have some confidence in it, but we didn’t think it would be this.”

The pair are in their west Los Angeles HQ, where they are in the middle of the six-day cycle which produces a South Park episode. “This one this week that we’re trying to do?”, chuckles Stone with good-natured exasperation.

In many ways, The Book of Mormon’s similarities to South Park are clear. There are few musicals on the main stage which make eye-popping jokes about cannibalism, rape, AIDS and the medicinal virtues of having sex with frogs.

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A scene from The Book of Mormon.

A scene from The Book of Mormon.

A scene from The Book of Mormon.

Parker tries to make sense of it: “It’s really two kids coming out of high school, basically, going out into the world, and thinking they’ve kind of got it and they know it all; and getting their asses handed to them. And I think anyone around the world can relate to that a little bit.

“We grew up with Mormons,” he shrugs, “we had Mormon friends, my first girlfriend was Mormon.

“We dabbled with it [the idea] a long time”, admits Parker. “We almost did it like a band. It was really, ‘let’s make an album’. I really wanted to just make this thing and sit down with my dad and press play.”

Preparation for the show included attending the annual Hill Cumorah pageant in New York State, where the Mormons tell the story of their religion in their own defiantly showbiz style. “It was an 800-person musical!”, says Stone fondly.

Even weirder, though, was observing the pageant being protested by other Christian sects, outraged at the Mormons’ take. “I remember there was a little kid there just saying to me, ‘You’re gonna burn in hell’, because he assumed I was a Mormon,” recounts Parker. “And I was watching him, like, you have no idea, kid. I’m going to SUPER burn in hell. Like, REALLY burn in hell. You’re worried about these guys…?”

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The team premiered the show on Broadway, where it soon gained rapturous acclaim. And here’s the surprising thing - there was barely any outrage of any sort. No picketing, no protests inside the theatre, no performances cancelled to allow for shocked sensibilities. Surprising to outsiders - but not to Parker and Stone. “Me and Trey called it,” shrugs Stone. “Everyone beforehand was like, ‘are you worried?’,” relays Parker. “And we were like, no. Because we know Mormons. Mormons are nice people and they’re smart people. We didn’t think they’d go so far as to take out ads in our programme.”

Stone admits: “There is an element to comedy that is ‘laugh at these people’. The Book of Mormon uses that mockability of the Mormons - and then tries to tell you a larger story and rope you in and open it up. Laughter breaks down your defences, you know? And then you’re open to a different story.”

It’s a story which seems set to keep on spreading, like the faith that inspired it in the first place.

  • There are still 24 more shows running up until Saturday December 4. Evening shows Monday to Saturday with 2.30pm matinees each Friday and Saturday also.

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