Magazine article The New Yorker

Final Polish

Magazine article The New Yorker

Final Polish

Article excerpt

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of "South Park" and of the new Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," stood at the back of the Eugene O'Neill one day watching a rehearsal of a number called "All American Prophet." The scene finds two plucky Mormons, who have been assigned to a mission in Uganda, pitching the story of Joseph Smith to a group of villagers. "It's a bitch of a song," Parker said, as the choreographer arranged the bodies onstage. As it turns out, boiling down a major religion into a three-minute show tune isn't easy.

"We're trying to make it an Osmond number," Parker explained.

"It's the Osmonds meets 'The Music Man' meets Joseph Smith history lesson," Stone said. "In Uganda."

The pair went up to the mezzanine, where their collaborator, Bobby Lopez, was seated at a keyboard. The three have been working on "The Book of Mormon" for seven years, whereas "South Park" takes only a week per episode. Proportionally, Parker reasoned, the entire preview period for "The Book of Mormon" was the equivalent of a Tuesday 4 A.M. cram session. It looked that way: Parker, who was wearing a "Star Wars" jacket, stood nursing three different caffeine sources (Starbucks, Diet Coke, Red Bull), while Stone, in a blue hoodie, paced, occasionally stretching his quadriceps.

Their first touchup was to a ballad sung by Nabalungi, the Ugandan ingenue, who dreams of a better life in Salt Lake City. The team had just replaced a lyric--"I hope the weather's nice there, and I hope it's free from sin"--with something less generic, more let's-diss-Utah: "And I bet the people are open-minded, and they don't care who you've been."

Lopez played it, then scrunched his face. "It sounds like she's saying, 'They don't care who you've been with.' "

Parker reminded them that Scott Rudin, their producer, preferred "what you've been." "He says that's a direct Prop 8 reference."

"I don't get that," Lopez said.

" 'What you've been'? 'Who you've been'? It's the same thing," Stone said.

Parker suggested, " 'They don't care where you've been'?"

"I don't get how that applies to her," Lopez said.

" 'They don't care if you're an African,' " Stone sang.

"We're overthinking it," Parker said.

Rudin wandered in, seeming upbeat. …

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