- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - For years, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have lampooned everything, from Scientology to Tiger Woods, Prius drivers to Islam, Britney Spears to the great state of New Jersey.

They’ve even had the boldness to make fun of George Clooney.

Is nothing sacred?

“That is sacred,” says Parker, looking suitably chastised during an interview in a Times Square restaurant after being reminded that he and Stone once dared to call Clooney smug. “We crossed the line there.”

Now the twisted minds behind “South Park” are daring to cross another line: They’re goofing on the Mormon church in a big, brassy Broadway musical that opens Thursday.

Together with “Avenue Q” writer Robert Lopez, the duo have left behind their foul-mouthed elementary students to tell a story about two young missionaries whose faith is rocked when they come face-to-face with famine, war and AIDS in Africa.

“The Book of Mormon,” which stars Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells, has foul language, some brilliantly sarcastic songs, references to genital mutilation, plenty of suppressed homosexuality, tap-dancing Mormons, war crimes threatened on an infant, Darth Vader and a character who repeatedly complains about having maggots in his scrotum.

While the show makes fun of several Broadway shows including “Fela!” and “The Lion King,” audience members at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre may be surprised that Parker and Stone have maintained the structure and feel of a traditional musical.

“We thought from the very beginning that the biggest challenge was to write a real Broadway musical,” says Stone. “With unconventional material, sure. But to do unconventional material conventionally.”

They’ve largely succeeded: There’s certainly more than a nod in the Mormon musical to Rodgers and Hammerstein, the great musical team _ and a Parker childhood favorite _ that also dealt with fresh-faced Americans confronting other cultures in shows such as “South Pacific” or “The King and I.” Parker and Stone also say a show about Mormons isn’t that strange when you consider other religious-themed musicals such as “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

It’s clear the team is banking on more than rabid “South Park” fans to keep the musical afloat.

“We’re hoping it’s a pretty broad group,” says Parker.

To which Stone adds: “It better be.”

Parker then turns hopeful: “We haven’t had a lot of walkouts so far.”

Parker, 41, and Stone, 39, have been working on the musical on and off for about seven years, putting the story and songs away each time they had to make another episode of “South Park” or finish their films “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” and “Team America: World Police.”

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