South Park duo to make Broadway musical about Mormons

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The last time they took on a minority religion, the creators of South Park found themselves at the centre of an international dispute involving Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology, which prompted a senior cast member to quit and saw the offending episode of their satirical cartoon banned from broadcast in the UK, for fear of prompting a libel suit.

Undeterred by that row, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have unveiled plans to open a Broadway musical devoted to poking fun at yet another quirky religious organisation which boasts very deep pockets along with a reputation for responding poorly to criticism: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Producers of the show, which has the working title The Book of Mormon, announced this week that Parker and Stone are collaborating on a script with Robert Lopez, the writer and composer best known for Avenue Q, the award-winning adult musical about a cast of foul-mouthed puppets inspired by the American children's television programme Sesame Street.

The new project opens next March, and apparently revolves around the exploits of two young missionaries who are sent to Uganda to spread the Mormon gospel. A sub-plot centres on Joseph Smith, the self-styled prophet who founded the Utah-based church in the 19th century.

Calling the show "a dream come true for us", Parker said: "Growing up in Colorado, a lot of our friends were Mormons and we always thought their book would make a great musical. I've never met a Mormon I didn't like. They're really nice people. They're so Disney. They're so Rodgers and Hammerstein."

There is certainly no shortage of comic material in the history of the Church, whose early followers enthusiastically embraced bigamy. Though the practice was formally renounced by Mormon leaders more than a century ago, it is still embraced by many fundamentalist organisations in Utah and surrounding states.

In recent times, Mormons have found themselves in the political firing line after they helped finance a successful campaign to outlaw gay marriage in California. The socially conservative Church, which boasts about 14 million members, teaches that homosexuality is a sin, bans followers from drinking alcohol, tea or coffee, and requires the faithful to give a portion of their income to the church.

Cheyenne Jackson, a gay actor who starred in the 9/11 film United 93, has revealed that he will take the lead role. "It's hilarious: very acerbic and biting," he said. "It offends everybody, but does what South Park does best, which is [that] by the end it comes around and has something great to say."

Parker and Stone are known for their brash humour. South Park, which launched in 1997, recently celebrated its 200th episode, has ridiculed everyone from Saddam Hussein to Tiger Woods, and recently devoted an episode to poking fun at dead celebrities like Michael Jackson, David Carradine and Farrah Fawcett.

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