It never goes by the book backstage

What will the “Book of Mormon” guys tell God when they get to heaven and discover that Mormonism was right all along? “Look at the box office,” Trey Parker said. Despite strong pre-show buzz, the “Mormon” crew said they weren’t at all sure they were going to win. “We’ve been in enough awards shows to know that it’s very easy to lose to Phil Collins at any time,” Parker admitted.

The “South Park” team’s first Broadway outing (assisted by composer Robert Lopez and helmer Casey Nicholaw, among others) was an exciting experience, but Matt Stone said he was a little intimidated by the money involved. “Seeing the marquee was pretty awesome, but it was a little like, ‘Get your ass to work,’ ” he said.

Parker also fielded a query from a Salt Lake City native who had a bone to pick with the Mormons’ use of the phrase “Praise Christ.” “I knew we should have cut that,” Stone muttered. Parker agreed. “It’s that one damn ‘Praise Christ’ that keeps biting us in the ass.”

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“War Horse” co-directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris said they had plenty of arguments during their time as directors of the play, but that those conflicts helped rather than hindered. “We grew incredibly close during the process,” Elliott said. Still, Morris added, their penchant for improving the show from incarnation to incarnation got them into a little hot water.

“We didn’t think we were going to do this, but we completely reinvented some scenes,” Morris recalled. “And we came in to New York saying, ‘We don’t really know quite how to do this bit,’ and they said, ‘You’ve done it before, what do you mean?’ and we said, ‘Actually, we’ve never tried this before, can we have an hour and a half of your time?’ And they just said ‘yes,’ over and over.”

Elliott also said the play got plenty of unexpected emotional reactions from people. “We had one very old man standing up, during the last scene, wringing his hands like this — well, obviously he wasn’t holding a Tony — but he just sort of couldn’t stop himself from standing.”

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John Benjamin Hickey said he was running on adrenaline in “The Normal Heart,” for which he nabbed the featured actor kudo. “It has taken an emotional toll, but that probably won’t manifest until July 11,” Hickey said, appearing to confirm rumors that the star-studded show won’t be extending its run.

“The play is about adrenaline — there is a cost, but the cost of it feeds us, and we continue to get very high on Larry’s work.” Hickey encouraged people outraged by the play’s exposure of apathy towards AIDS to “act up” (the name of playwright Kramer’s activist org), and to “raise their voice against things they don’t like in their government.”

On a lighter note, Hickey recounted his first experience on stage at one reporter’s behest. “It was Tom Sawyer in Plano, Texas,” he said. “And … you know how they say, ‘No matter how much you jump and dance, the last little drop goes in your pants?’

“Well, I peed a little bit in my overalls. It was terrifying.” He paused. “I can’t believe I just said that.”

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Visibly stunned by his triumph for actor in a musical, “Catch Me If You Can” thesp Norbert Leo Butz said the role was a tribute to his dad. “My father was having a lot of health problems,” Butz recalled, “And I was thinking about him and the fathers that we’re born with and the fathers that we look for when those fathers maybe don’t live up to expectations.” Butz, too, gave his most embarrassing onstage moment: “Has to be ‘Wicked,’ ” he said, “flying in on a rope like Errol Flynn, in tight white pants that ripped straight up the back. And it was all 9-year-old girls in the audience. Jockstrap came out… that’s all about it. Next question, please.”

Midway through the interview, Butz realized he’d forgotten something. “Oh, God, I forgot to thank Tom Hanks!” he said “Thank you Tom Hanks! Where is this all going to go? Is this the Internet? Can somebody get that out there?”

***

Underwear remained a theme over the course of the evening. “I lost my underwear during ‘Millie,’ ” admitted “Anything Goes” headliner Sutton Foster, fresh off her acceptance speech for winning actress in a musical. “I had a quick change in the opening number and my underwear – little shorts – fell down to the ground. And I had to step out of them and try to go on.”

Foster gamely recalled her first experience onstage, as well: “I played Annie, and then anyone who wanted to hear me sing ‘Tomorrow,’ or basically anything from the show – I was at the ready.”

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With her featured actress Tony in hand, Ellen Barkin said the revival of “The Normal Heart” wasn’t just justified, but necessary. “We’re all just so very proud to be shouting out this message that needs to be heard,” Barkin said. “There’s no cure for AIDS, and numbers are going up, and people seem to have forgotten.”

The thesp recalled seeing the show in its original incarnation, which packed an unintended wallop when real-life events intruded on it. “I saw the original production of the play in 1985 with the late, great Brad Davis who, five months into the run, was diagnosed with AIDS.”

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“Book of Mormon” thesp Nikki M. James said she found herself on the boy-heavy side of the O’Neill Theater’s two dressing room rows. “The way that the dressing rooms sort of play out, all of the Ugandan women are on the other side,” she sighed. “I’m on the boys’ side and I hear a lot of belching. You hear a lot of people doing things like going to the bathroom with the door open.”

James told journos that, in the beginning, she wasn’t even allowed to see the script of the show — the producers just told her that Trey Parker and Matt Stone were involved. “I know what a flop looks like,” she said. “From the beginning we were… cautiously optimistic.” She looked down at her best featured actress statue. “I didn’t know I was going to get this gorgeous new boyfriend, though.”

According to James, the irreverent tuner wasn’t just breaking taboos, it was breaking new ground. “There are no white women in this show, which is kind of unheard of for a Broadway musical,” said the African-American actor. “I’m really happy that they wrote a Disney princess role for a brown girl. I hope I do okay,” she added.

“I guess I do all right.”

***

Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner accepted Tony awards for designing far-out drag tuner “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” a gig that had already earned them an Oscar for the 1994 indie film version of the story.

And how did they do it? “First you start off with a lot of money,” Chappel said. “And then hallucinogenics!” Gardiner broke in. Chappel told reporters that “when we did the film, we had $20,000, and glue guns and duct tape and chicken wire. In some cases, we were holding the costumes on the actor just to make it through the shot.”

Asked about her famed American Express card dress (which she wore to the Oscars), Gardiner sighed. “I was but a child,” she said. “She was going to do a MetroCard dress tonight, but we had to use it getting here,” explained Chappel.

“American Express has that dress in a gold tube,” Gardiner revealed. “It goes places and it opens department stores and it has its own passport. I’m of drinking age now, and I’m going to have a drink now.”

***

His new Tony for the set of “The Book of Mormon” makes a hat trick for designer Scott Pask. “I come from a small place in the desert, so Mormonism is something I’ve grown up with and admired, and wondered at and all those things.” Pask said. “This musical is incredibly special, and what do you say? I’m just blown away.” His voice cracked. “I grew up in a trailer park,” Pask said. “This is a long way from there.”

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Longtime Broadway producer Daryl Roth accepted the Tony for revival of a play for her production of “The Normal Heart,” and she called the show’s very existence “kind of a miracle.”

“We were very grateful that the Golden (Theater) became available and that the Shuberts offered it to us at the very last minute — it enabled us to get in right under the deadline (for Tony eligibility),” she said. “‘Driving Miss Daisy’ had a load-out, and the next day, we had a load-in.”

In addition to the musical of Brit indie pic “Kinky Boots,” Roth revealed that she’s hoping to bring the stage version of “A Time to Kill” to New York from its current berth at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage.

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Roundabout Theater artistic director Todd Haimes took the opportunity of a victory for musical revival (and a Tony for star Sutton Foster) to give props to Foster for her performance as Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes.” “We always knew she’d be magnificent,” Haimes said. “She wills herself into every performance that she does, to be magnificent, and that dance number at the end of the first act where she dances for 13 minutes and turns around and belts out a song — that’s incredible.”

Haimes also addressed a persistent rumor about the company’s intent to produce much-rewritten Stephen Sondheim tuner “Merrily We Roll Along.” ” ‘Merrily,’ to my surprise, is being done at (concert staging series) Encores – if it goes well, we’d love to do it,” he said. “At this point, it would be really cool to have a Sondheim in the Sondheim theater. And Lapine, who we wanted to direct it is directing it at Encores.” The company’s exec director Harold Wolpert murmured a correction to Haimes. “Yes,” Haimes said, “After ‘Anything Goes’ runs for five years.”

The show, Haimes told journos, would have a fall 2012 tour start (the locations are to be decided), and would go on for a while on the Rialto. “We’d definitely like to extend it past January — our dream is that Sutton stays,” he confessed. “Now that she’s won her Tony, maybe I can ask her. But yeah, we’ll definitely go past January.”

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Pressed on his offbeat acceptance speech, lead actor in a play winner Mark Rylance told reporters not to worry. “It’s just a little advice about walking through walls,” the star of “Jerusalem” said. “I just think it’s quite good advice. It’s by a Minnesota poet, Louis Jenkins, from Duluth. He writes all my acceptance speeches.” Rylance gave a similarly unique speech after his 2008 win for “Boeing-Boeing.”

Why buck tradition and decline to thank your agent? “I don’t know,” he confessed. “I just get a little bored.”

The frequently funny actor said his feelings about the prize were mixed. “I feel kinda sad when I win things, to be honest with you,” he said. “To win in that group — it’s just unfathomable. Any list with Al Pacino. And I saw ‘The Normal Heart’ – I’m staggered by it. I don’t know how Joe (Mantello) does that eight times a week.”

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