NEW YORK — The official tongue-in-cheek slogan for "The Book of Mormon" claims that it is "God's Favorite Musical." Producers of the show are hopeful the Broadway community agrees.
The satirical show goes into Sunday night's Tony Awards with 14 Tony nominations, one shy of the record held by "The Producers," and is heavily favored to nab at the very least the best musical crown.
The show, by the creators of "South Park" and "Avenue Q," has already been declared the season's best musical by the Outer Critics Circle, the Drama League and the New York Drama Critics' Circle. It also has produced the fastest selling digital release of a cast recording in history.
The musical was the biggest new hit from a Broadway season that saw 42 shows open — 14 musicals, 25 plays and three specials. Box office grosses soared to $1.08 billion while attendance reached 12.5 million, both up from last season.
"The Book of Mormon," by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, follows the travails of two Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to try to convert locals. If it wins, it would be a considerable achievement for first-time Broadway playwrights Parker and Stone, who created the Emmy Award-winning "South Park" and films like "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" and "Team America: World Police."
A mix of high art and low, their musical pays homage to shows like "The King and I" and "The Lion King" and also references diarrhea and sex with babies. A Mormon sacred book finds its way into a leading character's rectum.
Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, which jointly produces the awards with the American Theatre Wing, saw all the shows this year but was most stunned by "The Book of Mormon" and thinks it shows Broadway's diversity.
"I'm in total shock within 10 minutes," she says. "I can't even believe the things that are coming out of their mouths and I turn around expecting to see everyone in their 20s. And I see people in their 60s just laughing and jumping out of their seats. I'm going, 'You know what? You can't call us cookie-cutter.'"
The musical faces the stiffest competition from "The Scottsboro Boys," which received 12 Tony nominations. The now-closed musical frames the 1930s-era story of nine black teenagers wrongfully put on death row as an inverted minstrel show.
This year's Tonys are on the Upper West Side after the ceremony was forced to leave its longtime home at Radio City Music Hall because Cirque du Soleil moved in. Tony producers picked the 3,000-seat Beacon Theatre, which has only about half as many seats as Radio City. CBS will be televising the event.
If CBS censors will be on high alert thanks to the often foul lyrics of "The Book of Mormon," they'll be happy about one decision. Stephen Adly Guirgis' play "The Motherf---- With the Hat" will be referred to simply as "The Mother with the Hat."
Other musicals with large nominations include the revival of "Anything Goes" with Sutton Foster, "Sister Act" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" featuring Daniel Radcliffe and John Laroquette.
In the best play category, the visually stunning British import "War Horse" with remarkable horse puppets is up against Jez Butterworth's "Jerusalem," David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People" and "The Motherf---- With the Hat."
The awards show will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, the Emmy-winning star of "How I Met Your Mother," and will feature appearances by Alec Baldwin, Christie Brinkley, Matthew Broderick, Harry Connick Jr., Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, Kelsey Grammer, Joel Grey, Marg Helgenberger, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Jim Parsons, David Hyde Pierce, Daniel Radcliffe, Vanessa Redgrave, Chris Rock, Brooke Shields, Robin Williams, Patrick Wilson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.3 comments on this story
There will be performances from all the Tony-nominated musicals — "Anything Goes," ''Catch Me If You Can" with Norbert Leo Butz and Aaron Tveit, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," ''Sister Act" with Patina Miller, "The Book of Mormon" and "The Scottsboro Boys" featuring Joshua Henry.
Other appearances will come from the cast of last year's Tony-winning musical "Memphis," the cast of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" with Nick Adams, Tony Sheldon and Will Swenson, and a song by Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano from the trouble-plagued "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," which is to finally open Tuesday and is not eligible for these awards.
The Tonys also will reassemble the all-star cast of the New York Philharmonic's limited run of "Company," which starred Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, Katie Finneran, Christina Hendricks, Patti LuPone, Martha Plimpton and Anika Noni Rose, among others.