Not just any musical wins nine Tony Awards, a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, and tours in 13 different countries around the world, all while playing to packed audiences on Broadway for over 11 years. But then The Book of Mormon, a musical comedy by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q co-creator/Frozen composer Robert Lopez, is not just any musical. “The Book of Mormon surely goes further than any other musical in Broadway history,” Chicago Tribune critic, Chris Jones, rightfully said about the production. As of March 2022, the comedy has been seen by over 19 million audience members, with over 12,000 performances worldwide. However, the popular musical, directed by Casey Nicholaw and Parker, did not just end up being a critics’ rave and an audience favorite by chance. The creators traveled a long journey to get there.
The conception of The Book of Mormon began when Parker and Stone met with Lopez after a performance of Avenue Q, the award-winning puppet musical, in 2003. They discovered a mutual interest in telling a story about Joseph Smith and the Mormon religion. A short time after that initial meeting, Lopez, Parker and Stone took a trip to Salt Lake City for inspiration, and The Book of Mormon musical was born. “Bobby had never been to Salt Lake City,” Parker said. He continued, “We started talking to Mormon missionaries, and talking to those kids it just so immediately became obvious: That’s the story to tell! Some kid who’s born and raised in Salt Lake, has done everything right, done everything he’s told to do, and then goes and gets a dose of the real world.”
The musical—a satire in the style of South Park and Avenue Q—follows the adventures of a mismatched pair of missionaries sent halfway across the world to spread the Good Word. When The Book of Mormon opened on Broadway in 2011 after nearly seven years of development, it instantly became a mega-hit. One of Broadway’s Legacy shows, now in its twelfth year of performances, The Book of Mormon just celebrated its 4,000th performance, one of only four shows in Broadway history to achieve that goal. It has set house records at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre more than 50 times. Since then, The Book of Mormon has played in 40 U.S. states, six Canadian provinces, and 134 cities across the globe. Critics dubbed the production “a faith-based extravaganza of jaw-dropping obscenity, hair-raising blasphemy, and irresistible good cheer,” “the funniest musical of all time” and the “best musical of this century,” and Tony voters at the time couldn’t agree more. It won nine Tony Awards, including Best Direction of a Musical, Best Scenic Design, Best Orchestrations, Best Lighting Design, Best Sound Design, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Featured Actress in a Musical and Best Musical.
On March 21, 2013, The Book of Mormon opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London’s West End. The day after opening the show grossed a record $3.2 million—the highest single sales day in West End and Broadway history. The West End production subsequently won four Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical, before launching a U.K. tour in 2019. The Book of Mormon has also toured in Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, and more.
What Stone, Parker and Lopez have created is a show that has influenced and entertained multiple generations. Audiences continue to enjoy an evening of humor and heart, proving that The Book of Mormon has undeniable staying power. “We’ve lived the ultimate Broadway dream,” Stone said. “We thought it was good and we were psyched to put it on in New York and we wanted it to be a success. We definitely believed in it, but we thought success would be, ‘We did it! It opened. We got some OK reviews.’”
The Book of Mormon is more than a success. It is now a global phenomenon.