"We do have a standards-and-practices team" Garefino says, as if suddenly remembering its existence. "Which is laughable given what we get away with." About the only thing Garefino, Parker and Stone say they don't touch any more is Islam. That whole situation was not funny, even to them. Mormons, experience has shown, are safer.
As Garefino talks, the cute kid keeps mangling the "Republican" line, as his horrified mother (horrified because her chirpy but defiant kid refuses to say it right and thus score a gig on "South Park") cringes in the corner. As different creative versions of the line are spoken into the microphone ("I want to say the line this way," says the precocious kid, "I don't want to say it that way"), a pressured staffer, who has a matter of minutes to find a kid who will say the line as written and get him on tape, tries to be nice to the munchkin while stopping the smoke from rising from his ears.
Garefino, unfazed, moves on into the animation studio, where artists are coloring in Kyle and Kenny on huge computer monitors, and then to an editing studio, where Stone has moved to give notes ("faster" is a big one). Because this is the last episode of the season, there is an end-of-term feeling around the joint, but most of these staffers have year-round jobs. There is a project to take all the early "South Park" episodes and redo them for HDTV; there is a Web operation; and there is a "South Park" video game in the works, which will receive Parker and Stone's full attention, like all their enterprises.
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- 'Book of Mormon' announces Chicago cast, including James Vincent Meredith
- PHOTO: From left, composer and lyricist Robert Lopez, choreographer Casey Nicholow, co-creator Matt Stone and co-creator Trey Parker in the studio where the Chicago production of "The Book of Mormon" is being rehearsed in New York.
- PHOTOS: PHOTOS: 'The Book of Mormon' on Broadway
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Once they can get "The Book of Mormon" off their backs. If they ever can.
Begotting an offspring with a major attitude
Unlike a "South Park" episode, a Broadway hit of this heft is not done in a week. It is workshopped, premiered, toured, toured again, toured yet again, internationalized, diminished, franchised revived and so on and so on.
"We first started talking about this," Parker says, "in 2004. It feels like we gave birth to a child." And now the child is off on a new mission, with his parents not quite knowing how and when to let him go.
"The Book of Mormon" was a huge success on Broadway to no small extent because Garefino and Rudin, the savviest of Broadway producers, managed to replicate the "South Park" way of working. Parker and Stone were paired with experienced Broadway hands in Lopez and choreographer and co-director Casey Nicholaw. But they were given the same level of creative control and freedom. "The Book of Mormon" did not go through out-of-town tryouts, as is customary with new musicals, but went right into Broadway, with Rudin intentionally amping up the pressure to work fast.
On press night in New York, a press agent declined to give out the show script or lyrics, as is customary. Clearly, Rudin had deduced that it would be good for business if "South Park" fans had to seek lines out for themselves on YouTube or gossip boards, devouring their discovery in exactly the way they devour new episodes of the TV show. It worked.
In many ways, this secondary life of "The Book of Mormon" actually is far more challenging for Garefino, Parker and Stone, who are perfectionists and genial control freaks, than its initial creation. They are caught between their own determination to maintain quality — there are no associates in charge of the Chicago production, and that means these touring productions have had to be rolled out slowly, between "South Park" seasons — and their own love of moving on to the next fun thing. At one point, Garefino says, she had a monitor in her Culver City office, allowing her to watch the New York production of "Book of Mormon" live, each and every night. At first, she did nothing else. Now, she doesn't watch so much. She has realized she couldn't get anything else done.
For their part, Parker and Stone are just not accustomed to revisiting their creative works. "I can't even imagine what it would be like if we had the chance to go back and change those early 'South Park' episodes,'" Parker says, shuddering at the very notion. "We had no idea what we were doing back then. They are unbearable. They should be buried. But with the show, it's like you have this kid that's out there in the world, and it's out there whether you pay attention to it or not. So you try to be a good parent and guide it the right way. But if you try to guide it too much, you're being an overbearing parent, and you f--- it up even more."
"I suppose this will sound conceited," Stone goes on. "But there are only about 800,000 people who have seen this show so far. That does not seem very many to us. We get more than that tuning in to a Sunday night rerun of 'South Park,' which is now available in, like, 16 kinds of media all over the world. Yet the show is this thing you have to go and see, and only a relatively small number of people have. This is very strange for us."
That's true, of course. But those "South Park" viewers aren't paying Broadway prices or investing so intensely in the experience. And Parker and Stone say they understand that increased commitment on the part of their fans, which is why they will be present at the Bank of America Theatre as "Book of Mormon" goes through its final rehearsals and previews. They have figured out "points of insertion" where they can be the most help. They also say they've been fascinated to work with humans instead of animated kids who only move or talk when so empowered by their masters.
"We're just so used to quick turnarounds," Parker says, "that there definitely is this feeling that this is the child that won't go away. But luckily there's a whole new cast each time that breathes new life into it, so it feels fresh."
That said, the production processes of these tours don't contain any meaningful changes from the Broadway original. Why mess up a hit? "We did it perfect the first time," says Parker, dryly.
Go ahead and offend all the way
As "The Book of Mormon," winner of the 2011 Tony Award for best musical, gets rolled out beyond the island of Manhattan (the Chicago production is the third, following the Broadway original and the first national tour, with London to follow early in 2013), there is much interest in the question as to whether audiences outside New York will embrace the show's outrageous mockery of young Mormon missionaries and their doctrine — and the humor that involves references to such sacred cows as, say, genital mutilation in Africa.
The plot, as now is well known, involves a pair of missionary buddies who are sent to Uganda (rather than their desired location, Orlando, Fla.), which Stone describes as a "stand-in for the worst place on Earth." (Uganda, not Orlando.) Already, there has been speculation in The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times about where "The Book of Mormon" can or can't tour (Utah, anyone?). There are those who say that the Brits won't understand it; there are those who say it won't ever play in the South; there are even some who think it will run out of juice in Chicago more quickly than some think.
Parker and Stone have a stock answer for all this: There are "South Park" fans everywhere; the more apparently conservative the community, the more frenetic the freethinkers; and "South Park" has always been a long way from an elitist, bicoastal aesthetic. And the "South Park" aesthetic is identical to the "Book of Mormon" aesthetic.
"When we opened in Denver," Stone says of the home-turf debut of the first national tour, "the audience reaction was almost identical to how it was in New York."