Arts Issue: Success of ‘Book of Mormon’ proves stunt-casting unnecessary
April 10, 2014
Broadway’s “The Book of Mormon” celebrated its three-year anniversary on March 24. The hit musical is still going strong with phenomenal ticket sales, a cult following and shows running in Chicago and London, as well as in two national tours.
In terms of celebrity, “Mormon” has not given in to the current trend of casting well-known stars to play the principal roles. This decision can most likely be attributed to the show’s ongoing popularity. The entire original cast of “Mormon” was relatively unknown at the beginning, but the show has propelled a few actors, such as leads Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad, into relative stardom. This lack of stunt-casting has so far worked in the show’s favor.
Oftentimes, when a show features an A-list cast, it is doomed to a short run after the original star’s contract ends. Celebrity casting creates commercial buzz, resulting in audiences who might attend for the celebrity rather than for the production. When an actor is replaced, the show cannot generate the same buzz and quickly loses popularity.
“Mormon’s” decision to cast lesser-known actors means that recasting when performers leave is not such a tragedy for the public, so the laudatory attention remains on the show itself.
Instead, the only notable celebrity presence connected to “Mormon” is that of the co-creators and co-writers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, best known for their creation of the infamously irreverent animated series “South Park.” This initially attracted many fans of the TV show to “Mormon.”
Advertisements for the Broadway show highlighted the fact that “God’s favorite musical” was written by the creators of “South Park,” and the duo used their celebrity to promote the show via talk show interviews. Three years later, “Mormon” has gained a legitimacy and positive reputation, standing as a masterpiece on its own, rather than leaning on Parker and Stone’s fame as a crutch.
After nine Tony Awards, one Grammy Award, one Drama Desk Award and a lot of press, “Mormon” is more successful than ever, without any famous artist’s name branding. Instead, its quality is what makes it stand out among the rest of the Broadway circuit.
Its innovative approach to satire is incredibly appealing to a broad audience, with crude, outlandish humor and a great musical score making for an entertaining and thorough exploration of the practices of religion.
Aside from some piggy-backing on “South Park,” “The Book of Mormon” relies on the content of the musical itself, rather than needing gimmicks such as celebrity casting to propel popularity among audiences. Clever social commentary in the form of parody, thankfully, appeals to theatergoers even without famous performers.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 10 print edition. Joseph Myers is a staff writer. Email him at [email protected]