MICHELE NORRIS, host: Now, a very different kind of success at last for Broadway. In March, "The Book of Mormon," a profane and painfully funny musical, opened to rave reviews and sold-out houses. In June, it won nine Tony Awards and the show's cast album has done something that hasn't happened in over 40 years. It hit the top ten in "Billboard" magazine's pop charts. Jeff Lunden has this mini-history.
JEFF LUNDEN: Once upon a time, original cast recordings were popular - really, really popular.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "I COULD HAVE DANCED ALL NIGHT")
LUNDEN: Author and theater critic Peter Filichia.
PETER FILICHIA: For a while there, "My Fair Lady" was the biggest-selling record of all time. I don't mean in the show category, I mean of all time.
LUNDEN: And even into the rock and roll era, shows like "Hello Dolly!" and "Funny Girl" could be one and two on the Billboard pop charts. But tastes changed.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND")
THE BEATLES: (Singing) Oh yeah, I tell you something I think you'll understand...
LUNDEN: So, it came as a big surprise when the original cast album of "The Book of Mormon" showed up last June at number three, right behind Adele and Lady Gaga, says Keith Caulfield, Billboard magazine's associate director of charts.
KEITH CAULFIELD: And it was the first time a cast album had been in the top 10 since 1969, when the cast recording of "Hair" was number one for 13 weeks.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HAIR")
LUNDEN: "Hair," of course, was a rock musical in rock's heyday, but that might not be the only reason for that album's popularity, says Peter Filichia.
FILICHIA: The album cover did mention that it was unexpurgated, so that certainly appealed to the baby boomers as well, that we'd be getting it raw.
LUNDEN: "Hair" used some words which hadn't been heard in Broadway musicals before, and "The Book of Mormon" takes that one or two or three steps further, even if the words are set to almost old-fashioned theater music. Trey Parker, one of the creators of the show, and of the highly successful TV series "South Park," says they tread the line between profane and sweet.
TREY PARKER: Obviously, anyone can go out there and go, (bleep), whatever. And, like, it's not gonna do anything, unless at the root of it, there is this heart and this soul.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HASA DIGA EEBOWAI")
Unidentified Singers: We've had no rain in several days. Hasa Diga Eebowai. And 80 percent of us have AIDS. Hasa Diga Eebowai. Many young girls here get circumcised. Their - get cut right off. And so we say up to the sky, Hasa Diga Eebowai.
LUNDEN: And a lot of the score of "The Book of Mormon" is just, well, catchy - catchy in a way that recalls those chart-topping shows of the 1950s and '60s. The cast album spent nine weeks on the Billboard 200 this summer, fueled partly by "The Book of Mormon's" Tony wins, partly by a special three-day promotion on Amazon, where people could download it for $1.99, and no doubt partly by the popularity of Trey Parker and Matt Stone and their following from "South Park."
The album's sold over 150,000 copies, making it both the best-selling cast recording of the year and the most downloaded cast album ever. But Keith Caulfield at "Billboard" says it's gonna have to stick around a while to catch up with some of the all-time leaders.
CAULFIELD: You can see a lot of success from certain kinds of albums that have stood the test of time, from, you know, "Les Miserables" to "Phantom of the Opera" to "Rent." You know, all those albums have sold hundreds and thousands and millions of copies in the U.S. So, will we see that with "The Book of Mormon"? I don't know.
LUNDEN: Caulfield says the album's been selling 2 or 3,000 units a week, just behind "Wicked." For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.
SOUNDBITE OF SONG "I BELIEVE"
Unidentified Singers: I believe! A Mormon just believes. I believe!
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