The Book of Mormon, the new musical from Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park) and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q) about missionaries in Africa, opened last night on Broadway. Judging by the reviews, this Mormon is ringing everyone’s bell.
One of the common threads in reviews is a wide-eyed surprise at how heartfelt and respectful the piece is toward classic musical theater—even in its foul-mouthed blasphemy—but take a look at some of the collaborators’ earliest work and you’ll see that this balance between shock and affection has always been present. Unless, perhaps, you’ve never heard about the time a certain green amphibian decided to go Shakespeare in Kermit, Prince of Denmark. Or maybe you missed the heartwarming and satisfying meal of Cannibal! The Musical. Well then, prepare yourself…
Long before they killed Kenny, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were serving up a plate of singing and dancing frontier-folk in their homemade film Cannibal! The Musical. Crude and slightly sickening (and I mean that as a compliment), “The Trapper Song” shows that these writers were always OK with their Oklahoma.
As young writers in the BMI music theater program more than a decade ago, Robert Lopez and his Avenue Q partner Jeff Marx shopped a particularly bold (and some might say insane) new direction for the Muppets. Why not follow up adaptations of A Christmas Carol and Treasure Island with a bit of Shakespeare? How about Hamlet? It’s actually not much of a leap from “It’s Not Easy Being Green” to “To Be or Not To Be.” Existential angst is existential angst. Download the complete, original demo recording of Kermit, The Prince of Denmark (damn, do they get that Muppet traveling-song-thing right with “Off to Denver”) and watch this video of Todd Buonopane singing a little ditty for Hamlet’s Uncle, “Claudius Rejoices (King for Awhile)”. Subversive but with a childlike sweetness, the seeds of Mormon were already planted.