In the summer of 2003, successful “South Park” duo Trey Parker and Matt Stone flew to New York City, and on the recommendation of producer Scott Rudin, saw Avenue Q, a raunchy puppet musical that was written and composed by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. The quartet struck up a quick friendship, which soon developed into a collaborative partnership after they realized that they were all interested in creatively exploring the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its prophet Joseph Smith. Native Coloradans Stone and Parker had familiarity with the Church, and along with Marx and Lopez, visited Utah to conduct interviews. After Jeff Marx separated from the project, Stone, Parker, and Lopez flew back and forth from LA, New York, and London as they put together the story for a musical they tentatively called The Book of Mormon: The Musical of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Lopez, a stage veteran, suggested they begin to workshop the piece. Over the course of four years, between 2006 and 2010, the three conducted over half a dozen developmental workshops of The Book of Mormon, ranging in scale from small performances for family and friends to larger, semi-staged readings for industry folk, finally concluding in August 2010 with a five-week workshop directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker. Scott Rudin, the producer who connected Stone, Parker, and Lopez in the first place, signed on to produce, opting to forgo an off=Broadway tryout to open cold on Broadway. Rudin employed an innovative new pricing strategy for The Book of Mormon, offering “dynamic pricing,” which is similar to the way tickets on an airplane are sold -- the price of tickets fluctuates along with the demand. Premium tickets in the orchestra section held steady at $477 each for the first year of the show’s run.
The Book of Mormon opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on March 24, 2011. As in the final workshop, it featured direction by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, and choreography by Nicholaw. The opening night cast featured Andrew Rannells (Elder Price), Josh Gad (Elder Cunningham), Nikki M. James (Nabalungi), Rory O’Malley (Elder McKinley), Michael Potts (Mafala Hatimbi), Lewis Cleale (Mission President), and Brian Tyree Henry (General), as well as a large ensemble. The show received glowing reviews. New York Times’ theatre critic Ben Brantley raved: “The Book of Mormon achieves something like a miracle. It both makes fun of and ardently embraces the all-American art form of the inspirational book musical.” The Book of Mormon received 14 Tony Award nominations -- the most of any show in 2011 -- and took home nine: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Nikki M. James), Best Direction of a Musical (Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker), Best Orchestrations (Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus), Best Scenic Design (Scott Pask), Best Lighting Design (Brian MacDevitt), and Best Sound Design (Brian Ronan).
The Book of Mormon is still running on Broadway, as well as on the West End, where it opened in 2013. The show is also currently touring the United States.