LOS ANGELES -- Trey Parker and Matt Stone are old hands at being holy terrors.
For the past 15 years the creators of "South Park" have been the reigning champs of camp. Now they have also earned a spot in the pantheon of Broadway with the pop culture juggernaut "The Book of Mormon."
The winner of nine Tony awards including best musical, "Mormon" is a blasphemous lampoon of religion with a song in its heart and a potty in its mouth. The twisted imaginations that brought us Mr. Hankey, the Christmas poo, have galvanized a new generation of theatergoers with this scatological satire of two bumbling Mormon missionaries dispatched to an AIDS-ridden African village.
Still a hot ticket on Broadway, where it opened last year, "Mormon" is thus far living up to its hype as the hottest ticket on the planet when it spreads to other cities. The profane parody sold out in less than two hours for its long-awaited five-week run at San Francisco's Curran Theatre from Nov. 27 to Dec. 30, and prime seats are now going for as much as $1,500 a pop on StubHub. (If you aren't among the blessed who scored tickets: there is a daily lottery in which a few $29 seats are available.) The same thing also happened at the launch of the national tour in Denver.
"I was unprepared for this kind of frenzy," says "Mormon" composer-lyricist Bobby Lopez. "But you've got to love it that there are 15-year-olds who are dying to see a Broadway show."
No one has been more surprised by the hoopla than Parker and Stone, who have now chalked up as many Tonys as Emmys (four). As chatty and warm as they are smart-alecky, they had no clue that critics would dub the show "heavenly" and theatergoers would be willing to shell out big bucks for their foulmouthed spoof even in an uncertain economy.
"People told us we were crazy to do this, that it was totally stupid, doomed to fail," says Stone during an interview at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre. "We went into this hoping for a respectable run, to last a year, maybe 18 months, just so we could hold our heads up.
"Now, suddenly, we're the Broadway establishment. We were completely caught off guard by this level of success."
A musical theater fan since childhood, Parker has a special fondness for the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon, which is often echoed in "Mormon." Stone had no interest in musicals until he met Parker in film school. Together they made the short film "Cannibal! The Musical," which paved the way for more sophisticated musical fare such as "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut."
"I am so glad that we chose to do this onstage," Parker says. "We could make a sweet movie out of it but if we did it there would have to be a car chase and a bomb. The pure writing of it for the stage, where you just can't rely on any of those tricks, that was really cool."
Outrageousness has long been a hallmark of Stone and Parker's work. One of the "South Park" characters -- Cartman -- once played a practical joke on a school chum that involved tricking the lad into eating his parents.
"We embrace risk," Stone says. "The last few years on 'South Park' we have done some of the riskiest things we have ever done, knowing it could kill the show, but we also know that's what we have to do."
So it should come as no surprise that "Mormon" pokes fun at everything. Hard. There is one chipper little song in which the Ugandan villagers share their life philosophy, "Hasa Diga Eebowai," which involves, ahem, interacting with the Almighty through various orifices.
"It's so offensive but I am loving it," says Gavin Creel, who plays Elder Price. "There is one moment when I wonder, 'Is this too far?' but that's what brilliant about Trey and Matt, they know where the line is and they cross it. Then they look back at you from the other side because they have the courage to hop over."
In the show, the missionaries soon find their sunny optimism besieged by the bleakness of life in Uganda. Among the hot-button subjects the musical discusses are famine, warlords, female genital mutilation and baby rape.
Ironically, edginess has turned out to be the key to the show's miraculous box office returns. "Mormon" has tapped into the pent-up desires of a new generation of theatergoers who are better versed in Cartman than "Cats."
"You can't always be hokey and traditional, that's why Broadway fell into disrepute with the younger generation," says composer Lopez, of the edgy and often profane puppet show "Avenue Q." "You have to make it fresh."
Indeed, Darren Keith Velasco says "Mormon" has put theater on the radar for those younger than 30. "If any musical can bring in a new audience," says the Santa Clara University student, "it would be the 'Book of Mormon.' "
Perhaps the most unexpected thing about "Mormon" is that it laces its shock value with a lot of heart.
"You know 'South Park' so you expect the crazy humor but you don't expect how much emotion there is," says Creel, of "Hair" and "Mary Poppins." "I've never been in anything like this. The payoff from the audience is amazing, full-bodied intensity. Laughing one moment and crying the next."
For the record, Stone and Parker deny they set out to make fun of Mormons. Indeed, it's hard to think of a celebrity, cause or ideology that has not come under "South Park" fire. Those they have trashed over the years include Scientologists, Ben Affleck, Toyota Prius owners and people who go zip-lining.
Still, Parker insists they mean no ill will. They simply have a perverse sense of humor.
"We actually bend over backward not to offend people," he says, "it just comes out that way."
It's not just theater buffs who have gotten into the act. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken out ads in the program suggesting fans read the actual Book of Mormon because "the book is always better."
Stone's two cents: "They should make us honorary Mormons."
'THE BOOK OF MORMON'
Book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone.
Playing: Nov. 27 to Dec. 30
Where: Curran Theatre. 445 Geary Street, San Francisco
Tickets: Regular seats are sold out but a limited number of $29 tickets are available through a daily lottery two hours before the show. For details, call 888-746-1799 or go to www.shnsf.com.