Cannibal! The Musical! (April 15-May 1, 2011)

The show they showed me

“Cannibal! The Rehearsal” a bloody mess

By Christian Carvajal

Originally a glorified student film of Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

I’ll keep repeating this until I’m sure we all get it: I can only review the show you show me.

There was no sane reason for Theater Artists Olympia to invite me to see Cannibal! The Musical eight days early. I double-checked; that’s how they wanted it. Perhaps director Pug Bujeaud, who directed a production of this show five years ago, assumed it was a slam dunk. It wasn’t. Perhaps the company values publicity over praise. Is it possible the show will find its footing by opening night? Of course. Hell, I hope so, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time one last week of rehearsal saved a company’s bacon … but again, I saw Cannibal! eight days early. And the fact remains that what I saw last Thursday was unworthy of an audience, be they professional critics or undiscriminating well-wishers; so that’s the show I’ll be reviewing herein.

If you’ve seen any episode of South Park, you know it can be brilliant and brain-dead, all in the same 30 seconds. The same goes for Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s previous projects, including Team America: World Police and this show, originally a glorified student film. I’ve actually met the guys and like them, and I gather their new Broadway musical The Book of Mormon is terrific, but let’s face it: This script will never threaten Some Like It Hot on the AFI’s comedy list. It boasts only a handful of solid jokes, so it’s to TAO’s credit that its production earns laughs from asides and ad libs. Unfortunately, just as many quips hail from the “yes, we’ve seen Star Wars” school of parody endemic on Family Guy – a style of “humor” Parker and Stone have since savaged on South Park.

Here’s what worked in rehearsal: The band. Dave Beacham as the incessantly optimistic Swan. Christian Doyle as the single-minded Alferd Packer, and Christine Pearch-Goode as Liane, the equine object of his affection. About half of the seven songs (and, yes, half of seven is a mixed number). The aforementioned asides. A dilettante enthusiasm one might generously refer to as “scrappy.”

Now. Here’s what didn’t: The tech; the lights didn’t work, by which I mean they wouldn’t go on or off. Sound effects. The sets weren’t all painted, and there weren’t enough techies to move them around. The fight scenes, which started energetically but overstayed their welcome. The gore, because it wasn’t completed. The costumes, which surely weren’t finished. The dozen kids wandering numbly around the stage. The stage manager and director jumping into scenes to nudge their show into gear. The singing, by and large, as actors were obliged to bellow over the rock combo, and some couldn’t find a key with GPS. To be fair, though, they were struggling with the acoustics of their performance space; viz, the basement of Eagles Hall.

TAO cannibalized its biggest hit and gambled on inviting us way too early. Say it with me: I can only review the show you show me. Fair enough?

Cannibal! The Revival

What a difference a week makes

By Christian Carvajal

Weekly Volcano

As you know if you read my review of what I called Cannibal! the Rehearsal, it’s a tragically bad idea to invite your critics eight days early when you’re still putting in lights and sound equipment, your costumes aren’t finished, and you still have cast members you’re not going to use. I regret nothing I said about that “performance,” as it was true at the time. It isn’t now. I felt so bad about what happened that I took the liberty of seeing the finished show at its final dress performance. Boy howdy, what a difference a week can make.

The kids who roamed the stage like it was Basement of the Damned? Gone. A battle-weary cast wearily wearying about random tech glitches? Unwearied. That indeterminate character in a green tunic? Determinate. In a word, the show is fun now. It feels like the theatrical version of the kind of randomly rad punk show you might stumble into in the Voyeur or the Midnight Sun. Oh, sure, a fair number of jokes are still mere references to pop culture; granted, at least three of the singers still couldn’t find a key with Google Maps. But the show moves so fast now that it’s already moved on to something else before you can ruminate on the aural assault.

Dave Beacham and Christian Doyle are just as good now as they were last week, and Christine Pearch-Goode is even better as Liane. Dennis Worrell and Silva Goetz added final nuances to their work as a ‘roid-raging trapper and a Denver Post reporter, respectively. Tom Sanders snarls through his darkly amusing turn as the audience surrogate, and Tim Goebel draws laughs from thin jokes as a button-down narrator. Doyle’s fight choreography moves swiftly but often threatens to inflict collateral damage on patrons in the front row.

Theater Artists Olympia (TAO) has long had a bipolarity problem. It wants to do edgy but professional theater, but it also wants to embrace musical camp. I think this nearly-finished version of Cannibal! the Musical finds the razor-thin DMZ between those objectives about as well as it possibly can, given the company’s limited resources. Olympia’s rock ‘n’ roll history lends itself to punk theater, and the Eagles Hall basement might be exactly the grungy, subterranean space an underground theater company can enliven. I just hope going forward that TAO’s process can be rather less tumultuous; it’s exhausting for its members and a crapshoot for the final product. But this time, against seemingly insurmountable odds, Cannibal! the Musical is poised for success

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