It's Christmas come early for actor James Vincent Meredith.
"I get to be part of the big hit show on Broadway and still do it by being in Chicago for the holidays," said Meredith, a Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble member who plays Mafala Hatimbi, one of the colorful challenges Mormons encounter while on a mission to Uganda.
Meredith is one of the local cast leads netted by Broadway in Chicago and Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, the combined forces for Broadway in Chicago's holiday stage hit "The Book of Mormon," beginning preview performances at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago on Dec. 11.
The "sit-down" production, created just for Chicago, is already sold-out through March, with a new block of tickets now on sale through June 2.
Last month, the musical's producers announced the show will star actor Nic Rouleau, the current star of the Broadway company, in the main role of Elder Price, with Ben Platt cast as his sidekick Elder Cunningham.
Parker, Stone and Lopez, the funny and creative minds behind the new musical with a silly spin on salvation, join Meredith's excitement, and a bit of anxiety, at the brisk selling pace for this winner of nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
"The Book of Mormon" features book, music and lyrics by trio Parker, Stone and Lopez. Parker and Stone are the four-time Emmy Award-winning creators of the altered approach animated series, "South Park" and Tony Award-winner Lopez is co-creator of the long-running hit musical comedy "Avenue Q." The musical is choreographed by Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw of "Monty Python's Spamalot" and "The Drowsy Chaperone," and is directed by Nicholaw with Parker.
Meredith just arrived back in Chicago last week, after months in the Windy City where this incarnation of the musical was prepped and rehearsed before mounting it here for this month's opening.
"My first audition for my role was back in April, while I was still at Steppenwolf Theatre doing the run of 'The March,' " he said.
"It's been exciting being part of the process for this production, which has been something entirely new for me to experience. I did 'Superior Donuts' when it moved to Broadway to debut, which was amazing. But being cast in a big musical that is being created just for a Chicago stay has been something very different."
What Meredith says will most surprise Chicago audiences seeing "Book of Mormon" for the first time is the depth of the subject and plot.
"I know the musical numbers and the humorous aspect is what gets played up the most with promotion," he said.
"But when I sat down and read the script for the first time, I was really struck by how much emotional weight there is with this story, especially as it moves along."
Meredith said he also admits being "a little reluctant" to sign on to do a musical.
"I'm pretty new to doing a stage musical, and this has been a great education for me," he said.
"I can still recall a month or so ago being in New York City for our rehearsals and we take a break. I'm standing with one of the other actors and we are looking out the window and it's overlooking 42nd St. and it's like I have to pinch myself that I'm really doing this project. I remember turning to the other guy and saying we are 100 percent the most lucky people there are to be doing something so rare and special that we love."
We also said the producers, especially Parker, are very involved and "hands on" with the process, taking plenty of notes during all the rehearsals.
"There's not only the New York version of the musical still running, but also a national tour of 'Mormon,' in addition to the standing production that is being launched in Chicago. So, the producers already know what they want from the actors in these roles, but they are also willing to let us try our own approaches. If they like them, they are great about saying, 'yes, let's keep that in.' "
As for the question Parker, Stone and Lopez are asked the most about the show, they say it never varies: How did you come up with the idea for "The Book of Mormon?"
And their response is a dialogue of answers that makes the entire "light bulb" moment sound very "by chance" as the three explain it:
Trey Parker: "Matt and I went to see "Avenue Q" when it opened in 2003, and we were like, 'Wow, this is actually really good.' When it was over I was thinking, 'This is exactly the kind of thing I've always dreamed about doing.'"
Matt Stone: "During intermission, we saw that we were thanked in the Playbill. 'Well,' we thought, 'that's weird.'"
Bobby Lopez: "That's because I saw the 'South Park' movie when it opened in 1999, and I just thought, 'Oh, my God, this is exactly what I want to be doing.' A week after that, the idea came to me for 'Avenue Q.' "
Trey Parker: "It happened purely by coincidence that Bobby showed up that night, he introduced himself and we went across the street for a drink."
Matt Stone: "Bobby is younger than Trey and me, so he looked at us like elder statesmen and asked what he should do next. We asked what he wanted to do, and he said, 'I want to write something about Joseph Smith and the Mormons.' "
Bobby Lopez: When I said Joseph Smith, they were like, 'We've wanted to do that, too!' They had it in their heads to do some kind of Joseph Smith musical, but never did. I said, 'If you guys want to do that, that’s fine, because I'd really love to see what you do, more than what I would do.'"
Trey Parker: "It just became ridiculously obvious that we should team up and do something about Mormons. So we said, 'No, let's do it together.'"