Cannibal! The Musical! (December 1-17, 2006)

Campy ‘Cannibal’ mixes music, mayhem

Originally published in The Tacoma News Tribune

I could not resist Theater Artists Olympia’s “Cannibal! The Musical,” written by “South Park” creator Trey Parker and billed as “All singing! All dancing! All flesh eating!” Apparently, I was not the only one seduced by their outlandish advertising, because the opening-night performance was not only sold out, it was oversold. They had to squeeze extra chairs into the black box theater at South Puget Sound Community College’s Center for the Arts.

The play is based on the true story of Alferd Packer, the first person in the United States to be convicted of cannibalism. In 1873, Packer accepted the position as guide to a group of 20 prospectors from Utah headed into the Colorado Territory. Stopped by mountain blizzards, the party wintered over with a tribe of Ute Indians. But six of the men, led by Packer, forged ahead and got lost. Packer was the only survivor from the party of six. He was accused of murdering and eating his companions, brought to trial and convicted. Yet many people in the territory believed he was innocent, and he became a Western folk legend.

Trey Parker turned the story into a campy film that gained a small but dedicated following.

The stage version is unique in that there is no script for it. Instead of a script, there are a few songs and an official adapter’s guide; theater companies are free to do whatever they want with these. TAO has chosen to present it as an outrageously campy musical with ludicrous costumes, silly fake beards, bad singing and dancing, a hilarious slide show projected above the set, a narrator right out of a 19th-century carnival, a sexy but overweight woman in the role of Packer’s horse, an Indian tribe in drag, liberal usage of words you can’t say on television, sly references to “West Side Story” and “Mr. Ed,” buckets of blood and body parts strewn all over the stage (they even list a “blood wrangler” on the technical crew).

This is TAO’s first musical, and none of the actors are outstanding singers or dancers, but they at least manage to (almost) carry a tune and do a bit of hoofing.

Songs guaranteed to stick in your mind include “Shpadoinkle Day,” “Don’t be Stupid” and “Hang the Bastard.”

Elizabeth Lord narrates the tale. Lord is well known in the area as a professional storyteller, and she has extensive theatrical experience in both performing and directing. She manages to maintain a serious demeanor when fools are cavorting all around her in most ridiculous ways.

Robert McConkey is Alferd Packer. He plays the convicted cannibal as an earnest but bumbling innocent who is deeply in love with his horse, Liane.

Kimberley Holm is a scene stealer as Liane the horse (of course). She prances with panache and chews her food in a most delightful manner.

Russ Holm plays Israel Swan, a nasty old miner whose greatest thrill is building snowmen.

Heather R. Christopher is charming as Polly Pry, the reporter who interviews Packer in jail and is seduced by his charms.

Also outstanding are Paul Purvine as the sex-obsessed young prospector, George Noon, and Dennis Rolly as the nefarious prosecutor, Warren Mills.

This show is not for everyone. People who enjoyed the bloody fight scenes in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” should love it. Everyone else beware.

‘Cannibal! The Musical’ is more than meat and potatoes theater

by By Steve Dunkelberger
Originally published in The Weekly Volcano

Theater Artists Olympia isn’t known for serving bland theatrical dishes so that people leave with that not-so-full feeling. It goes for a pinch more spice and zest than most theaters. Yet, it falls short of adding too much pepper, thus alienating audiences. TAO is what it is, and I cherish its niche in the theater landscape of the South Sound. When audiences go to TAO shows, they expect to see shows that step over social lines and do jigs on social taboos in a tastefully artistic and wholly irreverent way.

Such is the case with its current production, “Cannibal! The Musical,” at the Kenneth J. Minneart Center for the Arts at South Puget Sound Community College.

The show was written by Trey Parker, one of the dudes responsible for “South Park,” the adult-cartoon about a gaggle of potty-mouthed children. “Cannibal!” can best be described as the love child of “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with a bit of “Lilly, the Felon’s Daughter” thrown into the mix – or maybe “Oklahoma!” meets “Not Another Teen Movie.”

The emerging cult classic follows the story of Alferd Packer (played by Robert McConkey), a mountain man turned guide who becomes the focus of a trial when everyone in his party happens to get eaten en route to town. Along with chowing down on his chaps – literally – this Colorado cowboy runs into transvestite “Indians” and a gaggle of fur trappers with a knack for song-and-dance numbers.

Elizabeth Lord ties the whole show together as the tux-clad narrator, who walks into the scene from time to time to fill in the gaps. Another performance of note was landed by Kimberly Holm as Packer’s less-than-faithful horse.

Other members of the cast include: Heather Christopher, Mark Bujeaud, Russ Holm, Paul Purvine, Gabe Hacker, Dennis Worrell, Dennis Rolly, Nat Rayman, Joel Lehner, Tom Sanders, Jacob Austin, George P. Dougherty, Elizabeth Yates, Bill Plenefisch, Erin Hoke, Jake Winer, Carver Maneese, Lisa Foster, Joshua Behn, Ryan Richardson, Raychel Wagner, Beth McCoy, and Bobbi Jemelka. The director is Pug Bujeaud with musical direction from Josh Anderson and choreography by Christina Walker and Beth McCoy.

The show lacks a pit orchestra, which is sort of a drag for a musical. And it has very little staging to speak of – just some painted landscape scenes and a few folding flats to illustrate a Wild West town. Overall the show is a bit low budget, but it all seems to work to some degree because the show is just witty enough to work without the flash of big sets and booming instruments. All those would have added to the show, but they weren’t deal breakers. This show is not for everyone. It is campy. It’s a bit racy. It doesn’t particularly sit in the annals of high theater. But it is a fun show all things considered. Cult classic shows have their place in theater. Nothing is serious. Everything is over the top. Stereotypes abound, and jokes rattle off like an AK-47 at a Baghdad street market. The trick to keeping up with the jokes is to listen to every word. This is not a show to watch passively. It must be absorbed.