EXCLUSIVE: Accepting the best musical Tony Award for The Book of Mormon in 2011, co-director and co-writer Trey Parker broke up the Beacon Theater audience by thanking “a co-writer who passed away” — Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion. “You did it Joseph, you got the Tony!”
Smith, who presided over the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until he died in 1844, apparently had company. After Avenue Q won three Tonys in 2004, its composers, Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, disclosed that they were working with Parker and Matt Stone of Comedy Central’s South Park on a musical about a religion they wouldn’t identify. Marx told the Los Angeles Times in 2005 that he and Lopez had spotted Parker and Stone in the audience at Avenue Q, at the Golden Theatre, and went up to them at intermission. “They thought we were really weird, until we whipped out our Playbill and showed them our bios, where we list them as one of our inspirations.”
Today, Parker, Stone and Lopez share writing credits for Mormon. Marx isn’t in the Playbill or figure into the official history of the show, which has earned a profit of about $100 million for the Broadway company alone. (This week’s Crain’s has a story.) “I worked with them on it and then we split up and made a deal,” Marx, who lives in Los Angeles, said in an email. “I don’t want to say more than that except that I’m extremely happy the show has been so successful!”
Lopez declined to comment, but said in a 2013 Dramatists Guild of America discussion that he and Marx had become “horribly critical” of each other’s work while collaborating on Avenue Q. “We’d tear each other to death,” Lopez said. “And we’d end up with good stuff for a while and it was really working. But by the end of Avenue Q we had evolved a process that was extremely fraught.” Separately, a director and choreographer also exited during the development of Mormon.
Collaboration and conflict are hallmarks of the creative process. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, with a record 16 Tony nominations, is the rare musical blockbuster created by one writer.